30 September, 2006


For any who might not have heard of him, David Cameron is an anti-Bush liberal who has somehow become the leader of the centre-right UK Conservative Party. In domestic policy he is a Tony Blair clone but with verbs. Cameron climbs glaciers to demonstrate his belief in the pseudo-science of global warming and thinks we should all be understanding towards hoodies. Other than that, his main claim to fame is a traffic accident in India. His policies, uncontaminated by principle, consist of whatever the latest focus group has told him will win votes.

Now, Dave has decided it is time to communicate with the public so he has launched webcameron, a blog through which he can speak to the those "disaffected and disconnected from mainstream politics". The site will feature guest bloggers, beginning with US presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who was full of praise for Cameron in this week's Spectator.

I wonder what plans he has for speaking to those life-long Tories who are disaffected and disconnected from the Conservative Party. We are listening.

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Is Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan?

Oh yes he is, says President Musharraf of Pakistan (Times)

Oh no he isn't, says President Karzai of Afghanistan (China view)

It is fairly certain that he is one or the other, maybe even moving between both, despite reports earlier this week, based on a leaked French intelligent document, that he is dead.

My money would be on bin Laden being somewhere in the new Taliban safe-haven of Waziristan where, in the wake of the Waziristan Accord, Osama's close allies have felt secure enough to openly establish a Taliban office in the regional capital's bus station.

29 September, 2006

al-Qaeda database

To help understand the War on Terror, in particular the road from the Twin Towers to Afghanistan, Crumbling Spires presents the CS al-Qaeda database, a rough guide to al-Qaeda's origins, history and current activity. Of course there are many other sources on the web, but I find these few suffice as a handy reference when checking dates and general details of past events.

Who is Osama bin Laden? asks the BBC, with links to a television documentary (Panorama, 43 minutes) about Bin Laden.

Interactive al-Qaeda time-line from BBC News.

Interactive graphic from Der Spiegel, detailing Al Qaeda attacks worldwide since 9/11.

Taliban time-line from infoplease.

Background to links between al-Qaeda and the Taliban from BBC News.

The New Yorker analyses al-Qaeda within the broader context of Islamic terrorism's long term goals.

Not exactly related to the above, but my favourite Osama pin-up poster, Wanted, Dead or Alive, No1 of a set of 26.

NATO: European Cowardice 2

The majority of NATO countries are in the organisation for a free ride. Too terrified of their own shadows to defend themselves, membership of NATO allows the likes of Belgium, Norway, Spain and the rest of the firmly non-combatant nations to strut about the world stage, posturing about peace and security, whilst contributing nothing of value to the organisation. Nowhere illustrates the hypocrisy and cowardice of the majority of member states better than Afghanistan. No wonder then that America is getting increasingly frustrated with NATO and, moreover, is expressing those frustrations publicly.

It is one thing for analysis in blogs, for example, Crumbling Spires, to refer to European Cowardice, in NATO, but it is quite something else when Ronald Neumann, American ambassador in Afghanistan says it, albeit couched in the language of diplomacy.

The UK Daily Telegraph reports that in an interview with the German magazine, Der Speigel,

The American ambassador to Kabul has accused European members of Nato of jeopardising the future of the alliance by refusing to send troops to Afghanistan, or banning their forces from entering areas with heavy fighting.
[He] said European nations must not turn "coward" and "run away" from fighting terrorism in Afghanistan....
...Mr Neumann said some Europeans "obviously resist the idea that you have an army in order to fight. And I have very little patience for that".
The full article is a depressing litany of NATO's problems in Afghanistan: lack of troops; Spain,France Germany and Belgium refusing to make Eurocorps troops available; and Germany, Norway, Belgium and others refusing to let their troops anywhere near the fighting.

So the America, Britain, Canada, Netherlands and Australia, which is not a even member of NATO, continue to bear the load. The immediate problem of finding sufficient NATO troops to expand the ISAF operations into eastern Afghanistan has been solved by transferring 12,000 US troops to NATO command.

When a non-member state, Australia, is a more valuable ally than the majority of NATO, perhaps it is time to rethink the nature of the alliance.


Ambassador Neumann's interview with Spiegel

28 September, 2006

al-Qaeda Scorecard

Here is the conceptual outline of an idea for an al Qaeda scorecard. I have no experience with html tables, but I offer basic idea and data for anybody who might want to expand and refine the scorecard. It's a simple table: the first column lists the senior Qaeda figures still operating, based on data in the BBC's Who's Who in al Qaeda; the second column indicates dead or alive; and the final column is for any notes. The idea is to check off the names as the Allies deal with them.

Have fun


Here is a much more comprehensive scorecard: Terrorist Scumbag Scorecard




Osama Bin Laden


the head man

Ayman al-Zawahari


the resident ideologue

Abu Hamza al-Muhajir


runs al-Qaeda in Iraq

Sheikh Said


al-Qaeda's chief accountant

Saif al-Adel


head of al-Qaeda security

Abu Mohammed al-Masri


head of al-Qaeda's training

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith


does religion

Thirwat Salah Shirhata


all-purpose thug

British Army in Afghanistan

The Daily Telegraph examines the nature of the fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere reports that the army's most intense fighting since the Korean War has led to180 recommendations for medals, including "several" Victoria Crosses".

Describing the range of actions, a senior Whitehall source said: "You are talking about bayonet and grenade actions, Chinooks landing troops while being raked by gunfire and 105mm guns in direct fire mode."
The latter comment refers to light field guns being used with their barrels horizontal due to the proximity of the enemy — something not seen since Korea. "We're talking Waterloo stuff here," a source told The Daily Telegraph.
It is expected that as many as 100 of the awards will go to 3 Bn The Parachute Regiment which, for three months, has been in the front line against the Taliban in Helmand.

Operation Sinbad in Basra.

In Iraq, the British Army has launched Operation Sinbad, "a several-month long attempt to restore security and rebuild the troubled southern port city" of Basara. A British spokesman told International Newspapers that the operation (named after Basra's most famous resident) intends to provide,

... a concentrated security framework in order to allow the Iraqi forces to surge into the area and to provide reconstruction support for the Iraqi army engineers and Iraqi contractors.
Translation: it is the army's long term aim to hand over Basra to the Iraqis but, for now, they will focus on helping the locals to get back on their feet and on taking responsibility for dealing with any bad guys that interfere.

On the one hand, that will involve civilian "hearts and minds" projects such as getting hospitals and schools working, and improving the water supply. On the other hand, it will mean the military bringing law and order to a city whose problems include: a notoriously corrupt police force; violence between rival Sunni and Shiite militias; and "ordinary" criminal gangs, notably oil smugglers.

It is a difficult, dangerous task. We can only pray that the army achieves it with minimum casualties.

Upate 28.9.06
The Daily Telegraph has a report with a Basra timeline.

Brazil nuts.

The Old Bailey case of the Brazilian slapper accused of blackmailing a cocaine snorting, tax fiddling immigration judge has ended with a guilty verdict, of sorts. The samba merchant was found guilty of stealing the judge's home video of himself having sex with another judge but not guilty of blackmail. Sentencing will come later. In a very unusual step the trial judge allowed the press to name the immigration judge as Mohammed Ilyas Khan. The Lord Chancellor has merely announced he is considering an inquiry. Report from the Daily Mail.

Playtime activity: It is very difficult for the government to deport anybody, even suspected terrorists. Mohammed Ilyas Khan is still dragging in his £100,000+ per annum and hearing cases. Connect the dots.


27 September, 2006

War on Terror: the Waziristan problem

As widely feared, the Taliban are using the opportunities afforded by the Waziristan Accord to increase their activity in eastern Afghanistan. The International Herald Tribune reports a tripling of Tabliban attacks in the area, as a result of which the US army's Operation Mountain Fury has been involved in more combat than expected.

Waziristan is also where Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership are widely believed to be holed up.Reasonably enough, the Americans want to know what Pakistan intends to do about the area's terrorist population. On the face of it, Pakistan is doing little, other than surrendering Waziristan to the terrorists. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, as NDTV.com reports, the US is becoming "impatient" with Pakistan's inaction.

Tonight, President Bush is hosting a White House dinner for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. ABC News has a useful summary of the main points of contention. It could be a crucial meeting for the future direction, and prosecution, of the war on Terror. The mainstream media will, no doubt, be full of headlines saying this and that was decided but, providing Karazi and Musharaf do not end up trying to stick items of cutlery into each other, I do not expect anything of immediate significance being made public. That is not how the "great game" is played; and Musharaf, in particular, has a largely anti-US domestic audience to consider. We will just have to be patient and keep a careful watch on actual developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the coming weeks and months

Nursing and Foucault

Some NHS Trusts are saving money by cutting the number of specialist nurses, according to the Royal College of Nursing, a leading nursing trade union. In a RCN press statement, Professor Christine Norton, Chair of the RCN Gastroenterology and Stoma Care Forum says that,

The loss of specialist nursing posts is deeply worrying. There are already too few nurses with this level of skill working in the healthcare system. The loss of just one of these experts will have a disproportionate impact on patients.
It is also a terrible waste of their skills and training to have specialist nurses working shifts on other wards or departments. It is unacceptable that specialist nurses – or indeed any nurses – should be seen as ‘soft targets’. Ultimately it is the patient who ends up paying the price.
The RCN does not identify precisely the skills under discussion so it is impossible to make an informed judgement on the NHS Trusts' actions. Specialist nurses are unlikely to be primarily responsible for diagnosis of illness and decisions on treatment since such things are the roles of doctors. Is it operating specialist equipment? If so, then it is indeed a waste of expensive training to have specialists working other areas. However, if, as implied by the final paragraph of the press release, the skills are mainly the so-called "soft" skills such as counselling, then the Trusts might have a valid argument.

Either way, I am reminded of Foucault's argument that power and concomitant control are produced by specialised knowledge (discourse). The power in this case being professional status for nurses. What will the control consist of? Since the medical profession has a monopoly of diagnosis and treatment, I fear it will be control of how people lead their lives. We are already seeing significant movements in this direction in the nursing lobby's endless campaigning over smoking, drinking and diet. It represents a significant change in nursing, one which can be described as a move from a traditional nursing /caring role to a surveillance function.

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26 September, 2006

Private Johnson Beharry V.C.

Private Johnson Beharry V.C. of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross in Iraq. Since then things have not been going too well for this brave man. In a remarkable series of articles, based on Beharry V.C.'s forthcoming book, Barefoot Soldier, the Daily Telegraph has examined his life in some detail.

First extract.

Second extract.

Third extract.

News article with audio link.

Interview with Private Beharry V.C.

The full citation is worth the widest possible circulation. It reads,

Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries). His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.

"In the early hours of the 1st May 2004 Beharry’s company was ordered to replenish an isolated Coalition Forces outpost located in the centre of the troubled city of Al Amarah. He was the driver of a platoon commander’s Warrior armoured fighting vehicle. His platoon was the company’s reserve force and was placed on immediate notice to move. As the main elements of his company were moving into the city to carry out the replenishment, they were re-tasked to fight through a series of enemy ambushes in order to extract a foot patrol that had become pinned down under sustained small arms and heavy machine gun fire and improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade attack.

"Beharry’s platoon was tasked over the radio to come to the assistance of the remainder of the company, who were attempting to extract the isolated foot patrol. As his platoon passed a roundabout, en route to the pinned-down patrol, they became aware that the road to the front was empty of all civilians and traffic – an indicator of a potential ambush ahead. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt, so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then immediately hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades. Eyewitnesses report that the vehicle was engulfed in a number of violent explosions, which physically rocked the 30-tonne Warrior.

"As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle’s gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded. Due to damage sustained in the blast to the vehicle’s radio systems, Beharry had no means of communication with either his turret crew or any of the other Warrior vehicles deployed around him. He did not know if his commander or crewmen were still alive, or how serious their injuries may be. In this confusing and dangerous situation, on his own initiative, he closed his driver’s hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade placed across the road.

"The vehicle was hit again by sustained rocket-propelled grenade attack from insurgent fighters in the alleyways and on rooftops around his vehicle. Further damage to the Warrior from these explosions caused it to catch fire and fill rapidly with thick, noxious smoke. Beharry opened up his armoured hatch cover to clear his view and orientate himself to the situation. He still had no radio communications and was now acting on his own initiative, as the lead vehicle of a six Warrior convoy in an enemy-controlled area of the city at night. He assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his Warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five Warriors behind him towards safety.

"As the smoke in his driver’s tunnel cleared, he was just able to make out the shape of another rocket- propelled grenade in flight heading directly towards him. He pulled the heavy armoured hatch down with one hand, whilst still controlling his vehicle with the other. However, the overpressure from the explosion of the rocket wrenched the hatch out of his grip, and the flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver’s tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret. The impact of this rocket destroyed Beharry’s armoured periscope, so he was forced to drive the vehicle through the remainder of the ambushed route, some 1500 metres long, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle. During this long surge through the ambushes the vehicle was again struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. While his head remained out of the hatch, to enable him to see the route ahead, he was directly exposed to much of this fire, and was himself hit by a 7.62mm bullet, which penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface.

"Despite this harrowing weight of incoming fire Beharry continued to push through the extended ambush, still leading his platoon until he broke clean. He then visually identified another Warrior from his company and followed it through the streets of Al Amarah to the outside of the Cimic House outpost, which was receiving small arms fire from the surrounding area. Once he had brought his vehicle to a halt outside, without thought for his own personal safety, he climbed onto the turret of the still-burning vehicle and, seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby Warrior. He then returned once again to his vehicle and again mounted the exposed turret to lift out the vehicle’s gunner and move him to a position of safety. Exposing himself yet again to enemy fire he returned to the rear of the burning vehicle to lead the disorientated and shocked dismounts and casualties to safety. Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy. Only at this stage did Beharry pull the fire extinguisher handles, immobilising the engine of the vehicle, dismounted and then moved himself into the relative safety of the back of another Warrior. Once inside Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated.

"Having returned to duty following medical treatment, on the 11th June 2004 Beharry’s Warrior was part of a quick reaction force tasked to attempt to cut off a mortar team that had attacked a Coalition Force base in Al Amarah. As the lead vehicle of the platoon he was moving rapidly through the dark city streets towards the suspected firing point, when his vehicle was ambushed by the enemy from a series of rooftop positions. During this initial heavy weight of enemy fire, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the vehicle’s frontal armour, just six inches from Beharry’s head, resulting in a serious head injury. Other rockets struck the turret and sides of the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.

"With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, and forcefully reversed the Warrior out of the ambush area. The vehicle continued to move until it struck the wall of a nearby building and came to rest. Beharry then lost consciousness as a result of his wounds. By moving the vehicle out of the enemy’s chosen killing area he enabled other Warrior crews to be able to extract his crew from his vehicle, with a greatly reduced risk from incoming fire. Despite receiving a serious head injury, which later saw him being listed as very seriously injured and in a coma for some time, his level-headed actions in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire at short range again almost certainly saved the lives of his crew and provided the conditions for their safe evacuation to medical treatment.

"Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action."

Barefoot Soldier (Lttle, Brown Book Group, ISBN: 0316733210) is available through Amazon.

Turkey and Iran to invade Kurdistan

Kurdistan is largely mountainous region stretching from Turkey, across northern Iraq and into Iran, taking in a bit of Syria on the way. Each of those countries has a long history of conflict with its Kurdish ethnic minority populations. Now, reports DEBKAfile in a detailed analysis, the Kurds are likely to be the subject of a co-ordinated Turkish and Iranian invasion.

Map of Kurdistan, with inset showing etnhic Kurdish inhabited area, based on Wikipedia.

DEBKA concludes that Turkey wants

...to get in its blow against Kurdistan before an American action against Iran. The Turks buy Russian and Iranian intelligence evaluations according which the US attack may take place at any time between the last week of September and the end of December, 2006...
...Iran, for its part, is waiting for Turkey to make the first move in Iraqi Kurdistan. Its troops will go into action only after the first Turkish soldier and tank are on the move.
A major worry is that the Coalition forces in Iraq would be drawn into a major conflict, one which they currently do not have the resources to fight. Unfortunately, there is little sign of Coalition governments having the political will to make such resources available.

25 September, 2006

Al Qaeda leader killed in Iraq.

Omar al-Faruq (aka Farouk) was the senior Al Qaeda commander who escaped from Bagram jail in 2005 when in US custody (The Age). Subsequently he made his way to Iraq where, yesterday, he engaged in a dialogue with the British army. As a result of those negotiations, al-Faruq has been persuaded to retire from terrorism in order to spend more time with 72 virgins (Sunday Times).

Update: 26.09.06

The action was undertaken by the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.

This morning's Daily Telegraph has a report outlining al-Faruq's role in Al Qaeda.

Good news From Afghanistan: 4

Continuing the occasional series inspired by bandit.three.six. Earlier this month the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Farah opened a co-educational school in the village of Pirkandar. Local Afghani children can now have their lessons in surroundings more conducive to learning than squatting on the desert floor using an old mud wall as a wind shield.

Farzani is an eight-year-old Afghan girl. She dreams of becoming a teacher one day. Thanks to support from the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Farah, she's one step closer to reaching her dream. On September 3rd, Farzani and the rest of the children from Pirkandar gathered to witness the official opening of a co-ed school funded by PRT Farah. "On behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, Governor Stankzai and the Director of Education, this is your school now," said PRT Farah Commander, Commander Michael Horan. "We'll get this school open for the future generations of Afghanistan. These young boys and girls represent what's best in Afghanistan, and there's a lot to look forward to."
Full report and pictures from ISAF press release.

Police cowed by Islamic extremists.

We already knew that but it is surprising to hear it from both Conservative and Labour backbenchers, in the Sunday Telegraph.

They are not too eager about dealing with thugs and criminals either.

24 September, 2006

Leaked E-mail

The media is having a fine old time with a leaked e-mail in which a Major Jamie Loden, 3 Para, is critical of the RAF performance in Afghanistan.

The story features in the Observer; Sunday Times; and the New York Times. Ever ready to bash the military, BBC Radio and telelvision news are particularly enthusiastic about the story.

It is my understanding that it was a private e-mail, not intended for publication, written at a time of great stress. In it, the officer expressed views which he might not have done if he had known the document would be published. Somehow the press got hold of it and are using it embarrass the armed forces.

I will leave the military questions raised by the episode to those better qualified in the complexities of organising and executing air support (they are certainly not the journalists I've been reading). My intention here is ask the obvious questions that the msm will not: who leaked the e-mail and did they receive payment?

It is interesting that the military establishment is closing ranks, instead of using the epdisode to highlight the shortages of equipment in Afghanistan highlighted recently by Max Hastings.

Update 28.9.06
Major Loden has been talking to the Times.

Waziristan Pact

According to the Sunday Telegraph Mullah Omar, the monocular murderer, played a key role in the negotiations leading to the Waziristan Pact.

Tribal elders in south Waziristan said that Mullah Omar had sent one of his most trusted and feared commanders, Mullah Dadullah, to ask local militants to sign the truce. Dadullah, a one-legged fighter known for his fondness for beheading his enemies, is believed to be the man leading the campaign in southern Afghanistan in which 18 British troops have been killed.
Had they been not asked by Mullah Omar, none of them were willing to sign an agreement," said Lateef Afridi, a tribal elder and former national assembly member. "This is no peace agreement, it is accepting Taliban rule in Pakistan's territory."
I am not sure why the Telegraph should be running this item at this particular time, other than it is a quiet news day. It does not take too many grey cells to work out that senior Taliban figures were instrumental in the Pact, which I interpret as essentially a ceasefire between the Pakistan army, and the Taliban and friends.

The important question is whether the tribal leader, quoted above, is right about his assessment of the Pact. I implied in a post yesterday that the Pact is probably in part a sham, masking a surrender by the Pakistani army, and in part a genuine attempt to deal with the Taliban problem. It is a seemingly contradictory stance but the Pakistani government has a dilemma.

On the one hand, the Pakistani army needed a truce because of the casualties they were suffering. To that extent it was a surrender.

On the other hand, the Pakistani government is no supporter of Islamic terrorism, which is a source of domestic destabilisation. Perhaps they thought the best way to deal with the Waziri problem was to leave it to the local tribal chiefs, who have no desire to see a strong Taliban, or any other foreigners, in their territory. The government maybe hopes that the tribal chiefs can hold the line until NATO eventually destroys the Taliban. Interestingly, the Pakistanis have not been too strenuous in their objections to recent US intrusions into Waziri air space. To that extent, it was a genuine attempt to deal with the problem.