04 November, 2006

Good News from Afghanistan and Iraq: 4

Continuing the occasional series inspired by bandit.three.six, here are some stories you might not have seen in the mainstream media.

Schools are being re-opened in southern Kandahar.

In Helmand, army engineers are undertaking a range of projects.

The road between Kabul and Jalabad is under reconstruction.

A new hydro-electric power plant in Lagham province has been opened.

In southern Iraq, the RAF Regiment is building a mosque for the locals.

It is all step in the right direction.

Thought for the day.

This week, Prime Minister Tony Blair has expended much effort praising scientists, and trying to convince the country of the importance of science to society and to the future.

Why has he said so little about the importance to society and to the future of our armed forces?

From the BBC: Priced out of the armed forces

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ISI games.

MotlenThought examines the Indian dimension of the problems being caused by Pakistan's Directorate for inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), suggesting that Pakistan's "uneven" support for America may result from "the ISI's continued desire to use al Qaeda's allies in its proxy war against India."

Update 4.11.06 @ 17:55

I posted the above, went looking for something else and found this, from the Middle East Times: Pakistan and the terror nexus.

The instrumental role that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has played in fomenting international terrorism is well-documented. This paper [a leaked report] from an MoD-run think-tank shows clearly that senior intelligence officials are privately so concerned about this problem, that they are leaking the material at this time precisely to counter Musharraf's latest round of PR exercises in the USA and elsewhere.
The article goes on to rehearse details of ISI's involvement with terrorists on both sides of the Atlantic.


"Crazy" David Cameron

Quentin Davies, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford and a former shadow defence spokesman, has said that David Cameron's support this week, for a Scotch and Welsh Nationaist demand for an immediate inquiry into the Iraq war was "crazy". The Guardian reports that Davies told the BBC,

What the resolution said was that there should be an inquiry now with an open, public inquiry conducted by seven privy councillors into a military operation that's still going on.

I think that's an absolutely crazy idea and I can't understand that anybody responsibly would have wanted to go for it. Why we did that I don't know ... I didn't vote for it but most of the party did."

He added: "It's quite unprecedented, of course, in any kind of military operation to have a public inquiry like that while things are going on.

"Either it's a full and frank inquiry or it's not. If it is, then you're signalling to the enemy all your plans and all your weaknesses, and that can't make any sense at all.

"I think that soldiers serving out there in these very difficult conditions would have been just as amazed as I was."
Common sense from a Conservative MP. Perhaps there is hope for the party yet, despite the dismal leadership.

Link: BBC

Religious Wars in Glastonbury

In confrontational scenes reminiscent of the 6th century, at Glastonbury, Druids and Christians exchanged curses (proper ones, not bad language), spells, blessings and insults. Salt was thrown. As the Times reports the Romans police were called.

No doubt having conducted a health and safety survey and being reassured by the bones' configuration, the police concluded the Druids had the stronger magic and took their side, fining and cautioning a few Xians.

The Guardian takes the pagans' side.

It's just another day in the reversion of the UK to a pre-Christian dark age.

03 November, 2006

Blair discovers science.

Tony Blair has suddenly discovered the importance of science. He has been talking to the Guardian about it, making a speech in Oxford and talking to the New Scientist magazine. The Guardian has a report on the latter. The Guardian's links to related articles seem to make a mockery of government claims of seeking to encourage young people to take up science. I have no idea if the irony is intended.

The New Scientist is subscription only but you may get in through Google News. If not, the Downing Street website has an edited transcript and a podcast.


Gordon Brown's security empire.

Gordon Brown, the UK's finance minister is floating a plan to increase funding for the fight against terrorism. As the Independent puts it, he is proposing to

...create a single security budget by pooling the spending of MI5, MI6, GCHQ, the police's anti-terrorism work, and relevant spending by the departments responsible for transport, communities, local government and culture.
The Guardian goes much further, discerning plans to create a department of homeland security and that Brown
...is clearly thinking of bringing together budgets from the Home Office, the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence.
Both papers have been briefed that Brown feels some ministries are not doing enough to win a hearts and minds campaign within Islamic communities.

What to make of it? A good starting point is always to ask, not what politicians are saying but, why they are saying it at this particular time. Brown seems to assume that he will be anointed as the next prime minister when (if) Tony Blair stands down sometime next year. So this grandiose scheme may be a strategy intended to demonstrate that Brown is capable of taking a statesman-like, inter-departmental approach to policy. In this reading, the aim would be to answer criticisms that his approach to the business of government is constrained by his narrow experience of ministerial office, which has been limited to the Treasury. Equally the plans might be seen as originating within the Treasury, from senior civil servants seeing a chance to expand the power and influence of their bureaucratic empires.

Whatever, it is hard to see what an administrative re-organisation will achieve when at the sharp end of War on Terror, MI5 will still be struggling to find the resources to maintain surveillance on terrorist suspects.

BBC embedded with the Royal Mairnes in Afghanistan

BBC reporter, Alastair Leithead is in Helmand, Afghanistan, embedded with the Royal Marines and sending back daily reports.

In the best post-Reithian traditions of BBC journalism, on 2nd November Leithead signs off on a negative note, by focusing on the damage done to buildings rather the successful performance of the soldiers under attack from the Taliban. It does not seem to occur to him that the army must be doing something right for the villagers to tip them off about the Taliban's presence.

Perhaps it is understandable, given that the BBC will be anxious to maintain good relations with its Taliban friends.

Isreal and Hezbollah: Another war?

In today's edition of the Daily Telegraph, resident military historian, John Keegan, argues that another war in the Middle East is inevitable because the Israeli's cannot afford to allow Hezbollah to rebuild its fortified zone in southern Lebanon.

What happened in south Lebanon earlier this year has been widely misunderstood, largely because the anti-Israel bias in the international media led to the situation being misreported as an Israeli defeat.

It was no such thing. It was certainly an Israeli setback, but the idea that the IDF had suddenly lost its historic superiority over its Arab enemies and that they had acquired military qualities that had hitherto eluded them was quite false. Hizbollah suffered heavy losses in the fighting, perhaps as many as 1,000 killed out of its strength of up to 5,000 and it is only just now recovering.

What allowed Hizbollah to appear successful was its occupation of the bunker-and-tunnel system that it had constructed since June 2000, when the IDF gave up its presence in south Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982.

To ensure the security of its population, perhaps sooner rather than later, Israel will have to remove the tunnel systems and the missile threat it poses. Keegan thinks that, this time, Syria might defend Hezbollah but their intervention would offer both the USA and Israel a chance to deal with a state increasingly regarded "as Iran's advanced post on the Mediterranean shore."

IPPR report on teenagers' bad behaviour

The Institute for Public Policy Research has produced a report, to be published next Monday, which argues that parents who leave children to their own devices are responsible for producing the most delinquent teenagers in Europe.

The press are already having a field day: the Daily Telegraph has a fairly straightforward report; the Guardian, which ran the story yesterday, lets loose Polly Toynbee; and the Times links the IPPR report with the latest hoodie-hugging plea from David Cameron. This time Cameron has called for a "tough love" approach to the problem, which has been dubbed "love a lout" by one Labour wit.

We will have to wait to see the detail but it seems from the initial reports that the IPPR is up to the old trick of taking a widely accepted common view - parents leaving their children unsupervised causes disciplinary problems - and using statistical evidence to generalise a localised problem - "bad" behaviour by some young people - into a national crisis.

Recruitment and retention problems in the UK's armed forces.

The National Audit Office, the British government's official spending watchdog, has produced a report, Retention and Recruitment in the Armed forces, which argues that the UK's armed forces are about 5,000 understrength. It is not just recruitment which is a problem. The report asserts that vastly increased workloads, resulting from over-commitment in deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, are causing problems with retention. The problems are across all branches of the services. Both the BBC and the Times have more.

The NAO report only confirms what is already known to anybody with an interest in defence policy: government is still behaving as though there is a "peace dividend" to be had and 9/11 never happened. As Lord Guthrie pointed out this week, the last strategic defence review was in 1998 and had been "geared to a dramatically different world." Since then, the UK government has made series of worldwide commitments without paying detailed attention to how they are going to fulfilled, a prime example being North Korea. We have finally reached the point where the hard political decisions can be deferred no longer.

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02 November, 2006

NATO ask for EU help in Afghanistan.

In a wonderful example of wishful thinking, NATO has asked the European Union to make a greater contribution to the civilian reconstruction of Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post the request was made after a meeting with the UN, the World Bank and the EU.

"Particularly the EU has a great opportunity to make a significant and very timely difference in the area of the judiciary and the police," NATO's top civilian representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Daan Everts, told a news conference.

"The goal is wide open. They just have to kick the ball," he said...

...there was an acute need to train and equip judges and police and to build administrative capacity -- areas of EU expertise.
The EU is more likely to kick the ball in its own net, so the best NATO can hope for is funding. The last thing Afghanistan needs in the imposition of EU-style administration from an organisation which is a textbook example of an over-staffed dysfunctional bureaucracy, in which fraud and corruption are out of control. Moreover, it is becoming clear that European police forces cannot control Islamic extremists in their own backyards, but it might be fun to see them trying to police the Taliban, on their own turf.

Update 3.11.06 @13:30

There is now more details of the meeting on the NATO website, including an audio file (with so much reverb it could have recorded underwater) and a transcript of the press conference, and also video interviews with Everts and a World Bank official.

Anlgican Schism.

Recently, the threat of schism in the Anglican Communion over the ordination of homosexual priests has not been prominent in the the news. Both sides seem to have been marking time. However, as the Daily Telegraph's religion correspondent write in today's edition, things are likely to come to a head later this month, when the Archbishop of Canterbury meets with orthodox bishops to discuss the next step.

The orthodox website, VirtueOnline, sees a split as inevitable and forecasts that it will come at the meeting of Anglican Primates in Tanzania, next February, when orthodox US Episcopalian dioceses will be given their own bishops.

New York Times aids terrorism.

The Washington Times has an article detailing the disgraceful behaviour of the New York Times in repeatedly revealing sensitive security information, including: wire taps on al Qaeda; a Treasury programme to trace terrorist financing; and selectively negative excerpts from a National Intelligence Estimate. In short, they are willing to risk lives just to mount a political attack on President Bush and the Republicans. To such depths has the left sunk.

The fact that the article was written by a senior Republican does not invalidate the criticism.

The Hutton Report defended (by Lord Hutton).

In September 2002, Tony Blair attempted to strengthen the government's case for the invasion of Iraq by saying that it had intelligence to prove that President Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction against the UK within 45 minutes. Nobody believed him, so few were surprised when, in May 2003, the BBC's defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, ran a story that the 45 minute claim had been made despite opposition from the intelligence services, which knew it to be false.

In July 2003 the government identified and publicly revealed the source of Gilligan's story as an MoD official, David Kelly, who a week later committed suicide under the pressure of the disclosure. An unholy political row followed. In keeping with traditional government practice, to get themselves off the hook the government convened an enquiry into the circumstances of Kelly's death, to be conducted by a judge, Lord Hutton. Nobody really expects much of these enquiries. They usually exonerate ministers and their officials on the substantive charges and make a few insignificant criticisms to give the impression of independence.

Even by those standards of (dis)honesty Hutton's report astonished many by the way it whitewashed minster's and official's actions and cleared the government of lying about the 45 minute WMD threat. Hutton achieved this by believing everything ministers and their officials told him and disregarding totally (either not allowing or not believing) any other evidence.

Hutton's tarnished public image as the bent judge who did Blair's bidding was thereby established. Now he is trying to salvage his reputation through an article in the winter edition of Public Law (pdf download here). No chance. It is little more than a self-serving justification of his report, adding nothing to what is already known.

Canadian army in Afghanistan.

Paul Workman of Canada's CTV News paints a vivid picture of a journey through Ambush Alley, with a Canadian army convoy, in Khandahar City, southern Afghanistan. He has also been on patrol with the Dragoons.

Life in North Korea Part 2

Day 2 of Peter Simpsons's reports from North Korea for the Daily Telegraph.

Overall the impression Simpson conveys from Pyongyang is of a quiet, but tense, nation where many people have little idea of what is happening in the world beyond their country's borders.

01 November, 2006

New Royal Navy Aircraft carriers.

In 2012 and 2015 two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are due to enter service with the Royal Navy, if they ever get built. A brief history:

In January 2003 the Ministry of Defence announced that the preferred prime contractor for the UK Future Aircraft Carrier is BAE Systems with Thales UK as the key supplier. The industrial partnership between BAE Systems and Thales UK is known as the Future Carrier Alliance. In February 2005, Kellogg, Brown & Root UK (KBR) was appointed as preferred "Physical Integrator" for the project and is responsible for developing the optimum manufacturing strategy. VT Group and Babcock have also joined the Alliance.

In December 2005, the UK MOD approved funding of the demonstration phase for detailed design of the carriers, the first part of the Main Gate decision. The second part, approval for construction, is expected by the end of 2006.

To which can be added, in late 2006 construction approval was being delayed by a row over rising costs. The initial Ministry of Defence estimate was £2.8bn - £3bn. That figure was updated recently to £3.5bn. The consortium building the ships now says they cannot be built or less than £3.8bn. £3.8bn roughly equates to 1p on the basic rate of income tax. The MoD hopes to introduce some sort of incentive scheme which would shave the price down to £3.6bn. Sources have indicated to the Daily Telegraph that the MoD might eventually settle for £3.8bn but there is likely to be trouble from the Treasury.

At this rate, it is not inconceivable that at the time of launching, the Prince of Wales will be King William V's eldest son.

Egyptian Poll News.

Every single general election proves one thing: that opinion polls might be statistically valid but , in the real world, they are hopelessly inaccurate. Their only worthwhile for use for entertainment, on shows like Family Fortunes. A good question for which might be, which countries do Egyptians hate the most?

The BBC has the answer, thanks to a poll by the Egyptian government's Information and Decision Support Centre.

1 Israel
2 Denmark
3 Great Britain

After all the Empire did for them. Ingrates.


Inexpert witnesses

Nine murder convictions are to be reviewed because of doubts over expert evidence from Dr Michael Heath, a presumably still incompetent, but now ex-Home Office, pathologist. Talking to BBC Radio, David Jessel, a Criminal Cases Review Commission official, said that he also ...

had a general concern about the use of expert witnesses in the "gladiatorial" English legal system. "In particular in the area of shaken baby syndrome, there are many people who have been convicted on dogmatic scientific certainties which are no longer really sustainable".
It has taken a long time, but at least the message is getting through: theory is not to be mistaken for fact, however eminent the expert.

Previously on CS:

Marianne Williams 2: medical, legal and police stupidity.

Marianne Williams: not guilty.

Roy Meadow


General Richards on Afghanistan.

NATO commander, Lieutenant-General David Richards, tells the Times that, for the moment at least, he prefers building to killing. He is also doing a bit of law enforcement on bandit law enforcers.

He has recently intervened in one area of traditional concern among Afghans: the taking of illegal road tolls by police. Cars and lorries are stopped every day on Highway 1 by police demanding money. General Richards said that he had issued a directive to all troops under his command not just to “monitor” the illegal activities by the police but “to physically intervene to stop them”. It was, he said, another way of getting the message across to the Afghan people that life was better under Nato’s watchful eye.

Afghanistan: towards the peace.

The main stream western media regularly depict the conflict in Afghanistan as a relatively straightforward, bipolar confrontation between, on the one side, NATO forces supporting the Afghan President Karzai's government and, on the other, Taliban insurgents. In this model, Pakistan is presented virtually as an interested party looking on from the outside. This post, however, argues that although such an analysis might have held good at the onset of the conflict, currently it is a gross over-simplification, a misreading of events which gives a distorted view of the conflict by failing to identify accurately its true nature. It is rather, the post argues, a four-way conflict involving: NATO's ISAF and the Taliban; the Afghan government and the Taliban; Pakistan and the Taliban; and the USA and al Qaeda.

It is now beginning to look as if events in Afghanistan might be moving towards some sort of political end game. That is not so say that the military conflicts are over, or that the end game, when it comes, will be a definitive settlement. Far from it, but rather than a strategic end in themselves, the current conflicts are beginning to look to be part of tactics intended to establish political advantages in whatever negotiations will take place, perhaps most significantly the forthcoming Afghanistan jirga. Both NATO's and the Taliban's strategies seem to have changed to take account of this possibility.

There is little doubt, despite the way it has been widely reported, that during the summer NATO's ISAF inflicted a military defeat on the Taliban. The much-criticised British strategy of siting troops in Platoon Houses paid handsome dividends. In effect, it was sending a message to the Taliban along the lines of: if you want us out, then come and try to shift us. They came, they tried and, in some ferocious battles, they failed. At times it was a close run affair, not through the performance of British servicemen but through their lack of equipment and inadequate numbers, which remains the fault of the politicians in government. The Taliban have now eschewed frontal attacks in favour of random suicide bombings, which is not sustainable indefinitely, only as long as commanders have sufficient numbers of individuals low on intelligence and high on explosive. Despite the lethal dangers, it represents a tactical, rather than strategic, threat. NATO 's focus has now moved to reconstruction and passing responsibility for security to the Afghan army, as evidenced by Operation OQAB. In effect, NATO is trying to take a step back from military conflict into a support role. Not the least advantages of such an approach is to help give the Afghan government credibility in the eyes of its citizens. In effect the fortunes of NATO in Afghanistan is increasingly being tied to the performance of President Karzai's government on security.

The Afghan government itself remains something of an enigma. As yet, it has been happy to accept NATO's assistance in dealing with the Taliban but, given the levels of support for the Taliban within the local population, it remains to be seen how they will approach tackling the terrorists themselves. For the government to launch full scale assault against them would amount to a declaration of civil war and it remains to be seen if they are willing to take such a step, if it became necessary. First indications are that the politicians would be reluctant, hence President Karai's summoning of the jirga, in an attempt, whatever the rhetoric, to negotiate with the Taliban. We shall have to wait and see what develops in that line. For the present, it remains an unknown factor but there must be a worry that some tribal elders might prefer peace under the Taliban to even more years of civil war.

Paradoxically, despite the military defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban are probably now in a stronger strategic position than at any time in their history. They now have what is effectively becoming their own state, or states, along Afghanistan's eastern border, stretching from Balochistan in the south, northwards through Waziristan and into parts of North West Frontier Province. This entire area could well be known as "Talibanstan", a term which, reports indicate, has some not entirely jocular currency in parts of it. "Talibanstan" is supposed to be Pakistani sovereign territory but, after suffering a military defeat at the hands of the Taliban in Waziristan, the Pakistani government's writ no longer runs in these lands. Indeed, at the best of times the various indigenous tribes are fiercely independent and not receptive to outside control from Islamabad or anywhere else. This places Pakistani President General Musharraf in a bind. On the one hand, he would probably like to regain control of the areas and he has no sympathy for Islamic extremists, who are a destabilising influence throughout his country. On the other, having suffered heavy casualties the last time the Pakistan army took on the Taliban, the generals are in no mood to try again. Moreover, he has potential problems with Islamic extremists, sympathetic to the Taliban, within the army and ISI (Intelligence Services). Musharraf is negotiating his attendance at the Afghan jirga, so he is unlikely to make any moves in the immediate future. but his priority will almost certainly be surviving his own domestic problems, even if that means again surrendering to the Taliban on some issues. The last thing the Coalition needs is for its reliable ally to be replaced by a new president who may feel he has to consolidate his position by making significant gestures towards Pakistan's Islamic extremists, some of which could be be at NATO's expense.

A fourth, generally un-remarked aspect to the war is the USA's hunt for Osama bin Laden and his senior al Qaeda commanders. There is little doubt that they are holed up in the tribal lands, the area around Bajour, scene of yesterday's missile attack on a madrassa. However, misssile attacks are unlikely to succeed since al Qaeda probably has enough well-placed friends in the ISI, if not the army, to receive advance warning. All the Bajour attack achieved was to strengthen the Taliban's influence in the area and to weaken Musharraf's position.

For now, all we can say with confidence is that, so far, the Coalition operations in Afghanistan have been a success. Although, as ever, the future is unpredictable we can say with some confidence that, in the political manoeuvrings of the endgame, neither the Afghan nor the Pakistani governments are natural allies of the Taliban. The difficulty facing NATO now is how exploit their military victory in order to politically strengthen both presidents against the terrorists.

Life in North Korea

The Daily Telegraph's Peter Simpson has accompanied a group of businessmen to North Korea and today beings a series of reports from Pyongyang , including video, on life in the post-Stalinist paradise.

31 October, 2006

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Talbian: a three-way peace conference?

In an attempt to deal with the Taliban problem, the Afghanistan government is convening a jirga, a traditional Pashtun method of mediating disputes through a meeting of tribal elders. The meeting is due to take place near the Pakistani border, at Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, some time during December or January. The Pak Tribune reports:

Up to 1,600 people were expected to attend, presidential spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad said.

They would be drawn from parliament, civil society and tribal elders, he said, with the United Nations and other international representatives asked to monitor.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf will also be invited, reflecting the government's drive to emphasise that the Taliban problem straddles the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai mooted the jirgas in Washington last month amid tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan about the insurgency, with each blaming the other for not doing enough against the militants.

Pashtuns have for centuries used jirgas or tribal councils, traditionally composed of male tribal elders, to resolve internal disputes.
As the Pak Tribune points out, there is a danger that, through the elders, the Taliban will manipulate the jirga for its own ends, perhaps making unacceptable demands but Karzai feels that it is worth the risk because grass roots support is vital to any settlement.

A Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman was non-committal about the jirga.
About Karzai`s links with Pakistani politicians she said Pakistan is fully cognizant of such contacts and this is result of the rapprochement reached between President Musharraf, President Bush and Hamid Karzai, she added. Under this, Jirga has to be convened from both sides. Modalities are being worked out to hold jirga, she told. When foreign minister visits Kabul the procedure will be evolved, she held.
It loses a bit in translation, but the general tenor seems to confirm that the jirga was part of a deal reached by Presidents Bush, Musharraf and Karzai in Washington and that Pakistan will be a key player. Some lengthy negotiations probably lie ahead, but if the jirga ever takes place it will be in effect, be a three-way peace conference between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban. The US and NATO will no doubt be keeping a sharp eye on how much influence the Taliban is likely to be able to exert.

Winnie the Terrorist

No, not her. This story refers to vigilant action by employees of easyJet and the British Airports Authority in foiling a possible terrorist threat from an eight year old boy and his Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. Having taken the bear into custody, easyJet and BAA have, despite promises of safekeeping, between them managed to lose the bear and are arguing over whose fault it is.

However, Crumbling spires can reveal that the bear has been shipped out to Guantanamo where he is being subjected to honey deprivation and being force fed a diet of pig and rabbit. The next plane out there should contain the half-wit employees who lost him. Would you trust these people to operate an airline?

Seriously though, given BAA's endemic theft problem, I think we know what has happened.

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While Iraq bleeds, Pakisan seethes.

Over at The American Thinker, Rick Moran, of Right Wing Nuthouse, has a valuable analysis of the problems facing President Musharraf in Pakistan, as he attempts to survive whilst juggling support for the War on Terror with the hostility of domestic Islamic extremists.

The conclusions are consonant with my own paradoxical reading of the Waziristan Accord back in September: it is both a sham and a genuine attempt to solve Pakistan's Taliban problem. Welcome to the 2006 edition of The Great Game.

Madrassa Attack 2: the reaction

The Pakistan government, reports Boston World News, is now saying that the madrassa was taken out because US intelligence reports indicted that senior al Qaeda figures were in hiding there.

"This was a training camp, and they had been warned to stop their activities," said General Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador in Washington. "They did not pay heed, so they were hit by our gunships and all the people there were killed. There will be a lot of unhappy or misguided people saying we are killing our own people for the sake of the Americans, but we had a commitment to fight terrorism on our soil, and we made a decision."
We shall no doubt eventually see who fired the missiles but, as BWN reminds us, it would not be the first time the Pakistanis have lied about such things.
A similar strike occurred in January, when US missiles devastated a nearby compound that authorities believed Zawahri [a senior al Qaeda figure] was visiting. Officials initially denied, then acknowledged, reports that a US drone had carried out the strike, which killed 18 people. The raid set off protests across Pakistan and forced the Musharraf government to publicly condemn the action.
The Pak Tribune has no doubts that it was an American raid and reports on political opposition and the demonstrations which are certain to follow.

South Asia Times analyses the political repercussions, concluding that President Musharaff is now heading for a showdown with Islamic forces sooner rather than later.

Aljazeera also examines the political consequences, indicating a jihad against the government.

A (UK) Times correspondent has spoken to several eye-witnesses who claim to have seen "a US predator drone" circling the madrassa on days immediately before the attack.

Arab News focuses on the claim that many of the dead were children or religious students, as does the Arab The News - International.

The Khaleej Times condemns the raid as a war on innocents.

The BBC has a picture gallery of the raid's aftermath

So it goes on with claim and counter claim. One thing is fairly certain: any chance of peace deals between Musharaff and Pakistan's western border rebels in Balochistan, Waziristan and Northwest Frontier Province must be much reduced.


Taking the bus.

In Florida, enterprising 15-year-old Ritchie Davis helped himself to a bus, driving it along route 39, picking up passengers and collecting fares along the way. Until, that is, some killjoy passenger rang 911 and Orlando's finest arrived.

Ritchie Davis, 15, of Orlando, was stopped minutes later in Seminole County behind the wheel of the Lynx bus carrying Johnson and one other passenger, Seminole investigators said. Deputies said he had stolen the bus and driven it without a license. He was arrested on a grand-theft-auto charge and being held at Seminole's Juvenile Assessment Center.

The case started earlier that morning in Orange County when, deputies said, Davis took a retired Lynx bus from the Central Florida Fairgrounds off West Colonial Drive. They said he proceeded to drive Route 39 almost as if he were a Lynx driver: He was on schedule and knew all the route's stops and turns.
Three cheers for Ritchie. If he was on schedule, where was the official bus?

I do not know about the US, but in the UK a driver who ran on time, knew the route, could work the ticket machine and was not rude to passengers would raise suspicions straight away.


Iraq Inquiry

British service men are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan but that does not seem worry some in the House of Commons who see it as an opportunity to mount a political attack on the government. Today, as the Times reports, an anti-war coalition of Welsh and Scotch nationalists and Labour left wingers is attempting to force an inquiry into the Iraq war and its aftermath to be carried out by senior MPs. Not to be outflanked, the Conservatives have their own proposal for a different sort of inquiry but say that if the government does not agree to it, they will vote with the anti-war coalition.

There is no doubt that the government badly mishandled the issue of the Iraq invasion. There was a very strong case for the invasion but the government chose not to make it. Blair instead preferred to rely on incredible lies, which were inevitably going to come back to haunt him. I have seen no evidence that the government has subsequently mishandled events, although ministers are guilty of failing to present the strong argument for current attempts to turn Iraq into a functioning democracy.

The parliamentary vote is no more than a political manoeuvre, designed to politically embarrass the government. If the rebel MPs were really interested in defence issues they would be attacking the government over the disgraceful state of affairs in Afghanistan, where insufficient numbers of troops and a lack of helicopters has been a serious problem. As for the Conservatives' opportunism, it is disgrace but hardly surprising since the military experience amongst the backbenchers is long gone and the party is now dominated by pink and green liberals.


Madrassa Attack:

The Pakistani government has taken out a madrassa (religious school) in Bajaur, North West Frontier Province, that was being used as a training camp by Al Qaeda. Early reports indicate that over 80 missiles were fired from helicopters and that at last 80 people have been killed. The locals are not impressed and have taken to the streets. So far, details are sketchy because the Pakistani authorities initially kept the press out of Bajaur. The BBC, however, has film of the aftermath and the early exchanges in the propaganda battle.

Prince Charles has cancelled a visit to neighbouring Peshawar on the advice of the Pakistani government. Very sensible, which is more than can be said for the Foreign Office officials who approved the visit. Has nobody told them that Peshawar is a Taliban stronghold where the Pakistani government struggles to exercise authority.

30 October, 2006

Operation OQAB in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the ISAF has launched Operation OQAB (Eagle). A NATO spokesman told a press briefing on 18 October that,

It is a security plan to conduct security operations in all regions across Afghanistan. It will be the first ever country-wide joint Afghan national security forces, and ISAF operation together. I will not obviously give operational details, but it is an Afghan-led operation, Afghan National Police will be fully integrated into it and ISAF units will act in support of Afghan national security forces.
The purpose of this integrated security operation is to allow and encourage reconstruction and development to take place across Afghanistan.
And I think that's what I need to know. It will take place throughout the winter months that are coming.
The early results of OQAB are just becoming clear. Battles have been taking between the Afghan/ISAF forces and the Taliban in Zabul(or Zabol) and in Uruzgan (Oruzgan) provinces. In Zabul, in south east Afghanistan bordering on Balochistan, 55 bandits have been killed and some 20 wounded for the loss of one ISAF soldier. In Uruzgan, on Zabul's western border, the latest score is that the Afghan/ISAF is 70 without loss.

Click on map to enlarge.

Press reports: Washington Post, and an even more than usually negative Guardian.

David Cameron: the Young Adult Trust.

David Cameron, the well known blogger, Liberal and leader of the Conservative Party has a new big idea. It is, as the Guardian headline puts it, to "Make young people earn their rights".

Young people could be given their adult rights as a reward for completing a modern day national service scheme, the Tory leader, David Cameron, said today.

Linking rights to responsibilities would encourage youngsters to show they are responsible citizens, Mr Cameron said today as he challenged the notion that rights should automatically come with age.
It is not clear precisely what these "rights" are, only that they will be granted to 18-year-olds if they qualify for something called "adult status". Equally unclear, is the nature of "early adult status" which will be awarded to some, as yet unspecified, under 18s for some, as yet unspecified, demonstration of responsibility.

To further these ambitions, a new charity has been established, the Young Adult Trust. You can watch and hear the waffle on webcameron. Cameron seem to have in mind some sort of national course for school leavers. If this story runs, in a future post, I might don my educational historian's hat and detail the sad and sorry history of such courses, from the Continuation Colleges envisaged in the 1918 Education Act, through the Community Colleges which were a principal feature of the 1944 Education Act and on to the original 1981 conception of the Youth Training scheme (YTS). For now, it will have to suffice to say that the first two measures became dead letters because they were too expensive to realise and YTS ran into all sorts of political and technical problems.

Earlier today, Cameron visited a youth centre where a young adult called him a bastard and told him he did not know his arse from his elbow. It is not reported if the prescient youth was a certified responsible adult.

Police want water cannon.

The Daily Telegraph carries a report that the Metropolitan Police (London's police force) are wanting to ban flag burning and to be able to use water cannons to deal with violent demonstrators. The proposal seems to have originated in a report by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the Met's senior Muslim officer. Assistant Commissioner Token, who in the past has been perceived as soft on the problem of Islamic extremists, seems to be trying to cover his back as a result of the adverse reaction by a public tired of watching the police stand idly by as Islamic demonstrators flout the law. The two most notable occasions being: in Trafalgar Square last February,over the Danish cartoons; and outside Westminster Abbey, last month, over the Pope.

Of course the friends of the terrorists in the human rights industry are against the proposals but they do have a valid point when they argue that the police already possess the powers to intervene. Indeed, why should the police be given the ability to use extreme measures when they repeatedly refuse to use the powers they have. Moreover, if the police feel it is safer use water cannon rather than to wade in and crack heads in the traditional manner, it will soon become a measure of first resort and be used in all manner of circumstances.

Over the years, I have seen enough of these reports to be cynical enough to bet that, having given the public the impression that the police is getting tough, AC Token's report will be quietly forgotten and he, and his colleagues, will quietly continue the traditional appeasement.

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Sydney mufti: the terrorist connections?

The row over Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly,the Sydney mufti continues. At last, it is getting interesting.

The Australian claims that the federal government knew of the Sheik's links with Egyptian terrorist groups as early as 1984. In 1986, the Australian continues, the then immigration minister tried to have Elhilaly deported but was opposed by senior figures in the Labour government "including then Treasurer Paul Keating and MP Leo McLeay", who were worried about losing ethnic votes. MCleay's constituency contained the mosque where the mufti was based. In 1990 the Shiek was granted permanent residence in the country despite the intelligence available:

The Egyptian Government and its secret agents were concerned about Sheik Hilali's influence, particularly on the expatriate Egyptian community in Australia. They revealed that Sheik Hilali had spent some years training in Libya.

The Egyptians were concerned that he had been sent to train extremists.

After his arrival in Australia, Sheik Hilali was said to be linked to another extremist group, the Soldiers of God, which was believed to be involved in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981.
If the Australian's report is accurate, then suddenly, it becomes clear why the government is getting so worked up about, and why Islamic leaders are distancing themselves from, the mufti. Embarrassment all round.

As for the mufti himself, a heart attack, means there will be no press interviews, sermons or terrorist activities over the next few days.

29 October, 2006

SA AIDS policy - betroot out, drugs in.

Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister, better known as Dr. Beetroot, in honour of her recommended cure for AIDS, is no longer in charge of her country's response to the disease. According to allAfrica.com President Mbeki has had enough of world-wide ridicule and has replaced Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang (for whom thanks be to copy and paste) with his Deputy President, Phumzile-Mlambo Ngcuka.

"The beetroot and all that lemon stuff is out the window. These guys are now serious about getting it right," an adviser involved in recasting government's policy told the influential daily.

He was referring to Tshabalala-Msimang's much-ridiculed obsession with vegetables as a method to manage the disease.

Organisers of this weekend's conference said the minister, who was discharged from hospital on Friday after suffering from a lung ailment, was not invited to the conference to ensure unity and no controversy.

In September, after an United Nations AIDS conference where Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa, accused the South African government of expounding HIV/AIDS theories "more worthy of a lunatic fringe than a concerned and compassionate state".

The attack, aided by internal pressure from labour and civic groups prompted Mbeki to announce a shake-up which sidelined Tshabalala-Msimang and established an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the implementation of the comprehensive plan against HIV/AIDS. The plan included reviving the South African National AIDS Council (Sanac), now headed by Mlambo-Ngcuka.

A council workshop on Tuesday will help to plot the way forward.

The AIDS conference, attended by a number of civil society groups, including the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Council of Churches, as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), aims to come up with a plan to help government curb HIV/AIDS.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told the deputy president: "Now you've come and you have been brilliant... It looks like the days of marching against the government (on being ineffective regarding HIV/AIDS) are over. We are happy people."
Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang remains as health minister.

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A cuckoo way to run a war.

According to the Observer headline, the "Afghanistan war is 'cuckoo', says Blair's favourite general". That is not exactly what General, the Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, told them in an interview.

Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan - anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] - to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going on in Iraq is cuckoo,' Guthrie said.
Guthrie did not say the war per se is cuckoo, rather he was referring to the way it is being pursued, with insufficient numbers of troops with insufficient equipment. The thrust of Guthrie's argument in the interview is that, in the past governments thought they could use the so-called peace dividend to reduce military spending; however, circumstances have changed and the British armed forces are now dangerously over-stretched, a problem likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The UK's last fundamental strategic defence review in 1998, Guthrie said, had been "geared to a dramatically different world".

My interpretation of the interview is that His Lordship has been sent in to open the batting for the armed forces in an internal government debate over defence strategy and funding, with a view to putting public pressure on the politicians and mandarins. When Guthrie says,
'A lot has changed and we do actually need more soldiers to actually do the tasks - and new equipment. And we are saddled with some things that it doesn't look awfully likely we're going to use',
he is possibly referring to Trident, something we are unlikely to use but the cost of which is threatening to unbalance the entire defence budget and will require some hard decisions to be made. If my reading is correct then, over the next few months, we can expect plenty more salvoes from both sides.

Cabinet memo calls for a Muslim friendly foreign policy:

Something of a fuss has broken out about a secret government document which the Sunday Telegraph claims to have got hold of. According to the Telegraph, the document, a cabinet memo,

...admits that, in an ideal world, "the Muslim would not perceive the UK and its foreign policies as hostile" – effectively accepting the argument that Britain's military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist terrorist groups. Publicly, Mr Blair has resisted this line fiercely. During his final speech as leader to Labour's annual conference last month, he described such claims as "enemy propaganda".
The logical course of action, the memo argues, is to reduce the UK's military commitments around the globe. In other words, stop fighting Islamic terrorism and pull out of the War on Terror.

The idea that terrorists will stop killing and maiming if we do not oppose them is so ludicrous that it can only have come from a senior official out of touch with the real world. That sounds to me like the Foreign Office.

What if we did tell the USA that the UK was no longer an ally in the War on Terror and pulled our forces out of out Iraq and Afghanistan and anywhere else where our military presence might upset Muslims? In the Chicago Sun Times, Mark Steyn has the answer figured out for America and the lessons can be applied to the UK:
...suppose the ''Anyone But Bush'' bumper-sticker set got their way; suppose he and Cheney and Rummy and all the minor supporting warmongers down to yours truly were suddenly vaporized in 20 seconds' time. What then?

Nothing, that's what. The jihad's still there. Kim Jong Il's still there. The Iranian nukes are still there. The slyer Islamist subversion from south-east Asia to the Balkans to northern England goes on, day after day after day.
Exactly, the problems are not going to go away just because the UK adopts a foreign policy that does not upset Muslims. This is an ideological conflict between opposing sets of cultural values. Given the extreme opposition, to western post-Enlightenment Judeo-Christian value systems, of the Islamic terrorist groups and their sponsoring states, the west has a stark choice: it can either defend itself or surrender its way of life to the Islamic extremists. There is no middle way

Sheikh Elhilaly: Reaction

The controversy surrounding the Sydney mufti, Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly, rumbles on, with the Australian press, for example, the Age, calling for his dismissal. British Muslims are supporting him.

The episode seems to parallel the row in the UK over veils. In both instances, government ministers are wading in and demanding strong action. However, in both instances, ministers are concentrating on the ephemera and carefully avoiding the substantive issues. The UK and Australia each have a problem with the failure of Islamic immigrants to integrate into society but neither will confront their problem head on. Instead, British ministers prefer to manufacture a row about veils and the Australians choose to stir things up over some non-PC remarks by a cleric. The politicians have utilised these narrow issues to distract popular opinion by steering it away from a wider debate on the nature of Islam, both of itself and in relation to western societies.