UK military aid Korean nuclear investigation

VC10 aircraft on its way to Asia to help investigations into weapons tests ordered by Kim Jong II on country's east coast

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il acknowledging applause from soldiers as he inspects the Korean People's Army Unit 1286
A British military aircraft is on its way to North Korea to aid investigations in to the strength of this week's nuclear bomb test.

The underground blast which took place on Monday has received worldwide criticism and increased international tensions with the communist country, with America confirming it would act quickly if a military threat was posed.
North Korea also fired two short-range missiles from base on the country's east coast and leader Kim Jong-il has announced he was scrapping the peace treaty which ended the Korean War in July 1953.
Examinations are underway to determine the power of the nuclear explosion and the type of material that was used.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that a VC10 tanker plane, which is used for air-to-air refuelling, had been sent to Japan to help with the investigations.
A spokesman said: “Following the recent events in North Korea and to support the international community’s efforts during this time of increased political tension, we can confirm that the UK is supporting in the associated verification efforts by deploying a VC10 aircraft to Kadena airforce base in Japan."
US defence secretary Robert Gates told a security conference in Singapore today that "genuinely tough sanctions" were needed to control North Korea.
“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region, or on us,” he said.
Gates also branded the nuclear programme a “harbinger of a dark future". The US currently has 28,500 troops based in neighbouring South Korea
Earlier this week the Korean military threatened war if there was interference with its weapons testing programme.
A statement by the Korean People’s Army said: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has tremendous military muscle and its own method of strike is able to conquer any targets in its vicinity at one stroke or hit the US on the raw.
“Those who provoke the DPRK once will not be able to escape its unimaginable and merciless punishment."
READ MORE - UK military aid Korean nuclear investigation

Who will blink first?

North Korea threatens war as South joins U.S.-led blockade following N-bomb explosion

North Korea has warned of a 'military' response after South Korea joined a U.S.-led programme to intercept and search its ships for weapons of mass destruction.
The country, which shocked the world with the explosion of a nuclear device the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs on Monday, said the South signing up to the proliferation security initiative was tantamount to a declaration of war.
It has also declared that it no longer considers itself bound by the truce that halted the Korean War in 1953. Technically, the armistice has meant the war between the two countries never ended.
Rally: North Korean soldiers, officials and people celebrate the firing of a second nuclear missile
Rally: North Korean soldiers, officials and people celebrate the firing of a second nuclear missile
The declaration comes as fears grow that North Korea has restarted a nuclear plant. This is based on data from spy satellites which spotted vapour emerging from a known facility.
This suggests the country has followed through on its threat to restart its attempts to create weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea leader Kim Jong-il launched the high stakes poker game of nuclear diplomacy with the explosion of the nuclear bomb on Monday.
U.S. President Barack Obama  immediately demanded action from the international community as the nuclear test was universally condemned.
But North Korea is already so isolated that diplomats have openly admitted that it would be difficult to exert leverage over the rogue state with any further sanctions.
  Rally: North Korean soldiers, officials and people celebrate the firing of a second nuclear missile
North Korea has said that it no longer considers itself bound by the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953
cuban anti-aircraft battery in 1962
A Cuban Army battery during the 1962 crisis. Kennedy chose to use a blockade over a military strike in the hope it would leave all sides room to manoeuvre as the world came the closest it has ever been to nuclear war
With fears that Kim Jong-il could allow his newly-demonstrated nuclear technology to fall into the wrong hands, the blockade on ships has been pushed through as one of the few viable options.
Blockades have been used in nuclear diplomacy before, with President John F Kennedy imposing a blockade around Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 in hope of squeezing the missiles out.
Kennedy chose the blockade over a military strike in hopes it would leave all sides room to manoeuvre as the world came the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.
Now Barack Obama - who has been likened to Kennedy many times - is having to navigate his own path through the murky waters of nuclear diplomacy against a rogue communist state.
South Korean soldiers look at the North Korean side through binoculars at Dora Observation Post in the demilitarized zone today, near the border that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War
South Korean soldiers look at the North Korean side through binoculars at Dora Observation Post in the demilitarized zone today, near the border that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War
North Korea carried out the nuclear test at a site six miles underground and 40 miles north-west of Kimchaek in the north-east of the country
The proliferation security initiative is not as blanket a response as Kennedy's 'quarantine' of Cuba, but it does leave the international community - and Kim Jong-il - room to manoeuvre.
South Korea has previously stayed out of the U.S.-led operation to avoid harming reconciliation efforts with its neighbour, but announced it would join the pact yesterday.
Pyongyang responded by warning of an 'immediate, strong military measures' if the South stopped and searched any of its ships.
'Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels including search and seizure will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty, and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike,' an army spokesman said, according to official news agency KCNA.
North Korea accused the U.S., a signatory of the armistice, of 'dragging' the South into the programme under its 'hostile policy' against the North.
Barack Obama speaks in Las Vegas yesterday. He has promised to support South Korea as tensions rise over the nuclear row with the North
Barack Obama speaks in Las Vegas yesterday. He has promised to support South Korea as tensions rise over the nuclear row with the North
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in an undated photo released this week. North Korea's defiance over its nuclear programme has outraged the international community
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in an undated photo released this week. The country's defiance over its nuclear programme has outraged the international community
Obama has already promised unequivocal support for South Korea after the nuclear explosion earlier this week.
This was followed by a series of short-range missile launches, three on Monday and another three yesterday.
Reports in South Korea claim its neighbour has restarted its main nuclear plant at Yongbyon, indicating it is reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods to harvest plutonium.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak talks with Barack Obama on a telephone as defiant North Korea test-fired more missiles yesterday
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak talks with Barack Obama on a telephone as defiant North Korea test-fired more missiles yesterday
South Korea's Defence Ministry and the National Intelligence Service were unable to confirm the claim which came from an unnamed official.
The North had warned it would restart the process in protest at international criticism of its rocket launch on April 5 this year.
It is believed to have enough plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs and around 8,000 spent fuel rods.
If these were reprocessed, it could allow the country to harvest 6-8 kilograms (13-18 pounds) of plutonium - enough to make at least one nuclear bomb, experts said.
There were similar reports last week after claims the gate at a facility where the spent fuel rods were being stored was spotted open several times and chemical-carrying vehicles seen in the area.
Emergency sessions of the UN Security Council drew up new sanctions aimed at persuading North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to rejoin talks on ending his nuclear programme.
But existing sanctions are regularly flouted and the country is so poor it relies on aid, mainly from China, to feed its 23million people.
Diplomats believe Monday's explosion, which prompted an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, was a calculated attempt by Pyongyang to destabilise the region and shore up its hardline regime.
But the isolated nation appeared to have overreached itself when even China and Russia joined in with the criticism.
While the leadership is hard to penetrate and its motives are difficult to read, it is thought that North Korean Army chiefs want to reassert their influence before a successor is chosen to Kim, whose position has been on under question since he suffered a stroke last year.
... Then he returned to the refuge of his hometown, Nagasaki - and survived THIS atomic bomb blast on August 9, 1945
The explosion caused by the bomb dropped by America on Nagasaki in August of 1945. That bomb carried a payload of 22 kilotons, roughly two kilotons stronger than the one tested by North Korea on Monday
Others think nuclear brinkmanship is a way for Kim to reassert his iron grip on power to ensure that one of his sons is well placed to succeed him.
China, the state's regional benefactor, said it was resolutely opposed to the test, but it was thought to remain opposed to punitive sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the test and is working on a new resolution, but analysts say China is unlikely to support anything tough.
For China, the more immediate risk may be serious rupture inside the impoverished state, which could spark a flood of North Korean refugees across its border.
READ MORE - Who will blink first?

'Blatant Defiance'

North Korea Flexes Its Muscle, Conducting a Nuclear Test and Test-Firing Missiles


LONDON, May 25 :

North Korea sent jitters across the region today by conducting an underground nuclear test and later, reportedly, test-firing a series of short range missiles. South Korean officials confirmed the test, citing detection of an artificial earthquake -- magnitude 4.5 -- in Gilju, at the northeastern tip of North Korea. A few miles away, off the country's east coast, North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles during the day, according to South Korea's Yonhap News agency. The first short-range missile was fired from Musudan-ri, 300 miles north of Seoul. The second set of two short-range missiles were fired from Wonsan, Kangwon province, only 45 miles north of the North-South border.

North Korea put its armed forces on standby Monday and threatened retaliation against anyone seeking to stop it from firing what regional powers fear will be a missile in the latest barrage of threats from the communist regime.

This is the region where North Korea had conducted their first underground nuclear test in 2006 and had launched a long-range missile on April 5 that drew censure from the U.N. Security Council. President Obama called for global action saying the communist nation is "directly and recklessly challenging the international community." In a statement from Washington, he said, "These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations."

The Chinese foreign ministry also said that it was "resolutely opposed" to the test. Japan placed its own set of sanctions against North Korea three years ago, when the North conducted its previous nuclear test. The ban included imports of North Korean goods and port calls by North Korean vessels. After North Korea launched a long range missile, which North Korea called a communication satellite, last April, the Japanese government extended the duration of the ban by one year. The U.N. Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting today. Analysts in Seoul say the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is trying to mark his country's presence as a full nuclear power.

"North Korea is making a very clear statement that we are a nuclear state. Now deal with us, as such," said Lee Jung-Hoon, professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. "It's a wake-up call to the international community that we shouldn't pretend as if somehow North Korea would negotiate dismantlement."

North Korea sent jitters across the region today by conducting an underground nuclear test and later, reportedly, test-firing a series of short range missiles. South Korean officials confirmed the test, citing detection of an artificial earthquake -- magnitude 4.5 -- in Gilju, at the northeastern tip of North Korea. A few miles away, off the country's east coast, North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles during the day, according to South Korea's Yonhap News agency. The first short-range missile was fired from Musudan-ri, 300 miles north of Seoul. The second set of two short-range missiles were fired from Wonsan, Kangwon province, only 45 miles north of the North-South border.

This is the region where North Korea had conducted their first underground nuclear test in 2006 and had launched a long-range missile on April 5 that drew censure from the U.N. Security Council. President Obama called for global action saying the communist nation is "directly and recklessly challenging the international community." In a statement from Washington, he said, "These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations."
READ MORE - 'Blatant Defiance'

George W. Bush "Kept Us Safe"?

Lately, the only thing worse than Dick Cheney's boldfaced lie that the Bush administration policies "kept us safe" is the gaggle of mainstream journalists mindlessly repeating it.

My question for journalists working for CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, NPR and the like is very simple: Exactly what kind of delusional definition of "kept us safe" is swirling around your cobweb covered newsrooms? That definition must be some kind of crazy, because it accommodates not only the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history and the tragic death of thousands in New Orleans, but dozens of other yikes-we-are-so-not-safe moments, all which happened during George W. Bush's Presidency.

For example:

During George W. Bush's Presidency, thousands of soldiers died in Iraq--a war we now know without question to have been waged as part of an ideological program, not out of necessity. Those thousands of soldiers each had parents, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, and hometowns dragged through the cruel stop-gap policies imposed on service men and women by George W. Bush.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were injured, only to return to the squalid conditions and cruel indifference of a veterans' care medical system that fell through the cracks of America's for-profit healthcare racket. The tragedy of our injured soldiers came to light during George W. Bush's Presidency.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the number of Americans living in abject fear for lack of health insurance reached the tens of millions. As a result of this crisis of fear, a private medical relief agency initially set up to fly doctors to remote jungles in South America began flying relief into poor American communities. This happened during George W. Bush's Presidency.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the NSA spied on the private citizens, thanks to the willing participation of major American telecom companies, a major violation of the most fundamental Constitutional rights Americans thought protected them from KGB-style domestic surveillance.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the citizens of nearly all American foreign allies began to view the United States as a hostile threat to world peace, safety, and security as a result of (1) the preemptive invasion policies of Dick Cheney and (2) the torture-of-prisoners policies of Dick Cheney.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, job security for working communities dropped, underemployment reached historic highs, and earned wages for worker output stagnated.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, Bernard Madoff was arrested for running the largest financial Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding private citizens, retirement funds, and not-for-profit organizations out of billions of dollars.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the United States impeded global cooperation to lower carbon emissions levels, thereby heightening a general fear over the destructive potential of global warming.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the United States economy tipped into the deepest economic crisis since the 1920s, hastening experts to describe the housing and financial market meltdown as a potential global economic 'depression.'
During George W. Bush's Presidency, pet food produced in China was discovered as the cause of deaths for American dogs and cats contaminated by toxic melamine, resulting in a nationwide panic.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, ecoli contamination killed multiple people who had ate spinach, tomatoes, and peppers.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, elderly Americans panicked over shortages of flu vaccines.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party ran political commercials claiming that voting for Democratic Party candidates would lead directly to the death and destruction of small town America by terrorists with nuclear bombs.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, fear and hatred of homosexuality reached a fever pitch in American politics.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party ran election campaigns designed to scare Jewish voters into thinking that the election of Democrats would result in another Holocaust.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, civilian planes were hijacked and flown into two of the tallest buildings in the world--the event was broadcast on live television--and when the President was told these events were happening by one of his closest aides, he sat there stone faced and did nothing, while his vice President--Dick Cheney--vanished into an "undisclosed location."
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the country was swept up in fear that terrorists were attacking ordinary citizens by sending the anthrax virus in the form of white powder through the United States Postal system.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, invasive strip searches coupled with racial profiling were introduced to the act of getting onto an airplane.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, a man who looked mentally ill was able to get past airport security, get on a plane, and then light a fuse connected to explosives in his shoes.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, a color-coded system was created to tell Americans via broadcast television that the threat of a terrorist attack was high at all times.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party launched a national campaign to convince the public that the Democratic nominee for president was a covert adherent to radical Islam with covert ties to domestic and foreign terrorists.
During George W. Bush's Presidency--a time lauded and celebrated by the National Rifle Association, who claimed to have "their man in the Oval office"--the largest gun massacre on a university campus occurred at Virginia Tech, resulting in the violent deaths of 5 faculty members and 27 students.
During George W. Bush's Presidency, the CIA at the bequest of Dick Cheney tortured prisoners using techniques in direct violation of U.S. and international law, dramatically increasing the likelihood that captured U.S. prisoners in the future will also be subject to torture.
And that is just to name a few, but you get the point. So, remind me again: How did George W. Bush's policies keep us safe? Call me crazy, but I just do not see it.
To understand what it means for a President to keep us safe, my advice is to ignore Dick Cheney altogether and listen directly to former President Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1941 FDR gave a speech about "Four Freedoms" which spoke directly to the issue of security for Americans and the rest of the world:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941
To be fair, George W. Bush did some good work relative to Roosevelt's list of "Four Freedoms," in particular his dedication of a considerable funds to help fight AIDS in African nations. And yet, in his domestic and foreign policies--most of them designed and pushed by Dick Cheney--George W. Bush shrouded American life in a politics of fear. He did not make us more safe. Using the media and the military, George W. Bush made us more afraid, more anxious, and more concerned for our future. Even worse: he sought to profit politically from the fear he created.
If there is ever ranking of Presidents who made us feel the most safe, I will bet you a gas mask and a roll of duct tape that George W. Bush ends up in last place.
So the next time Dick Cheney repeats his big, fat, stinking lie that George W. Bush "kept us safe," I hope journalists have the wherewithal and the basic decency to laugh out loud.
The rest of us are already laughing.
READ MORE - George W. Bush "Kept Us Safe"?

Cheney's War Against Obama

It was almost like an episode from On the one side was President Obama speaking on national security in a measured and statesmanlike way. On the other side was former vice-president Dick Cheney trying to speak on national security in a measured and statesmanlike way.
It wasn't even close. Obama deftly wove his own personal saga and faith in American values with its future. His indictment of the Bush administration wasn't something that Obama wanted to deliver--as he made it clear, he wants to move on. Cheney's campaign to hail his own record forced Obama to recount, once more, why it was that the Bush administration besmirched America's Constitution, why "enhanced interrogation" didn't enhance American security but directly jeopardized it.

Once again, Cheney, by contrast, offered a deceptively consoling vision of an America that can't lose its moral bearings because any measures that are deemed necessary to protect it are, by definition, just and righteous. Why is anyone even listening to him? The failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy has been patently obvious--a morass in Iraq, a resurgent insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan--note that Obama did not include Iraq as part of the struggle against terrorism--and the collapse of American standing around the globe.

But since even Democratic Senators seem to be cowering before the idea of shuttering Guantanamo, it's worth briefly examining Cheney's modus operandi once again. In his speech at the American Enterprise Institute, which the Weekly Standard first posted, Cheney deployed a number of familiar tactics.

First, he revived the bogus claim that Saddam Hussein was working hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda: "We had the anthrax attack from an unknown source. We had the training camps of Afghanistan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists."

Second, he depicted the Democrats as woefully out of touch with reality, trapped in a law enforcement approach when it comes to national security: "You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event - coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come."

But as Obama pointed out, the Bush administration didn't really have a strategy, but an ad hoc policy towards prosecuting terrorists. Furthermore, Obama has not, and did not, say that 9/11 was an isolated event. In fact, he courageously noted that he cannot promise that another attack will never take place. But he also made it clear that stopping terrorism is his number one priority. Does that sound like someone who is asleep at the switch? Like a president, who, when listening to a CIA briefer warning about a looming al-Qaeda attack, says, "All right. You've covered your ass now."

Third, Cheney claimed, "Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda." But what operatives and persons inside the United States did this program ever expose?

Fourth, Cheney made it sound as though the Bush administration never embraced torture. The problem was confined to a few low-level, rogue guards: "At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America's cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men."

Fifth, Cheney ridiculed the notion that the Bush administration's tactics boomeranged: "This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."

The reference to the "left" is revealing. Cheney began his speech by presenting himself as a simple, plainspoken fellow who had no office left to seek, no grudges to settle. But by the end, his mask slipped and the culture warrior appeared. His war isn't against terrorism. It's against Obama.
READ MORE - Cheney's War Against Obama

Baghdad Roadside Bomb Kills 3 US Soldiers

Six-year-old Ahmed Haider rests in his mother's laps in a hospital after he was wounded in Wednesday's car bomb blast at Shula in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 21, 2009. A car bomb exploded Wednesday near several restaurants in a Shiite neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, killing 41 people and injuring more than 70, police and hospital officials said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

BAGHDAD — Three American soldiers were killed Thursday in a bombing in Baghdad, the U.S. military said, part of a burst of violence only weeks before American combat troops are due to leave Iraqi cities.

The attack was one of a series of bombings to hit Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least 66 people and wounding dozens more in two days.

The deadliest blast Thursday occurred in Baghdad's southern Dora district, where a bomb exploded near an American foot patrol, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The U.S. military initially reported nine U.S. personnel were wounded in the attack. Later, the military said it could not confirm that number because the injured were still being evaluated and treated.

The attack occurred about 10:38 a.m. as the soldiers patrolled near an outdoor market, said Army Maj. David Shoupe.

Iraqi police said a suicide bomber was responsible, but Shoupe said the U.S. could not confirm that. He said four civilians died in the blast, but Iraqi police and hospital officials put the civilian toll at 12 killed and 25 wounded.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Earlier Thursday, another suicide bomber killed seven U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries as they waited in a line to receive salaries at an Iraqi military base in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Police Maj. Salam Zankana said the victims in the Kirkuk attack were members of the local paramilitary Awakening Council _ Sunnis who turned against the insurgents and help provide security. Eight others were wounded, he said.

Awakening Council members, also known as Sons of Iraq, have been frequently targeted by al-Qaida and other Sunni groups still fighting U.S. troops and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Sami Ghayashi, 37, who was among the injured, said the local council members had been waiting three months to receive their salaries.

"While we were waiting at gate talking to one another a big explosion took place," he said from his hospital bed. "I saw several colleagues dead, among them my cousin. I have no idea how this suicide bomber got among us."

Also Thursday, a bomb exploded inside a police station in western Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding 19 others, an Iraqi police official said. The bomb was hidden inside a trash can and carried into the station, he added.

The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Despite a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, attacks still occur, although with less frequency. Bursts of attacks tend to be followed by periods of calm, only to have the violence spring up again.

The attacks came a day after a car bomb exploded near a group of restaurants in a Shiite neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, leaving 41 people dead and more than 70 others injured.

That incident was the capital's first major car-bombing since May 6, when 15 people were killed at a produce market in south Baghdad.It was also the deadliest in the city since twin car blasts killed 51 people in another Shiite neighborhood, Sadr City, on April 29.

The failure to stop the bombings adds pressure on the Iraqi government to demonstrate that it can meet security challenges ahead of a June 30 deadline for the U.S. to remove all combat forces from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

A day after the Shula bombing, dozens were still being treated at an area hospital for shrapnel wounds and burns. The blast blew out the front of a building housing shops and restaurants.

Coffins draped with flags were carried through the streets near the bombing as funerals began for the dead.

U.S. troops are due to leave Iraqi cities under terms of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect Jan. 1. President Barack Obama plans to remove combat troops from the country by September 2010, with all U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Under the agreement, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could ask the U.S. to delay the pullout from the cities. However, the issue is politically sensitive in a country worn out by six years of war, and the government has insisted there will be no delay in the withdrawal schedule.
READ MORE - Baghdad Roadside Bomb Kills 3 US Soldiers

Tide turns against the Taliban

By Owen Bennett-Jones
BBC News, Peshawar

IDP's queue for food
Support for the Taliban is fading as the conflict increasingly affects civilians
In Pakistan there has been a real change in the past few months - the public has had enough of the Taliban and the army has gone to war. As a result well over one million people have been forced to flee their homes.
I have come to a place about an hour's drive from Peshawar, 50 miles (80km) from where there has been intense fighting.
There are many people on the move here who have run away from that fighting and they have brought with them eyewitness accounts of the brutal things they have seen under the Taliban's control of the Swat valley over the past few months.
"They were beheading people, they were shooting innocent people without any warning, they were terrifying us," one woman tells me.
"They were stopping our kids from going to school, they were kidnapping young boys."
A man standing nearby is also eager to talk.
"With my own hands I have buried 18 people who were beheaded, even children," he tells me grimly.
"They are not friends, they are not our allies, they're our enemies, they are criminals, they are gangsters."
New mood
Such strong public criticism of the Taliban is new - the mood has changed in Pakistan.
They say, 'eliminate them, clear up our area, for God's sake', that is the message that is coming from the local people
Tariq Hyatt Khan,
senior government official
Tariq Hyatt Khan is the most senior government official in one of the tribal areas in North West Frontier Province and he tells me that the people of Pakistan have simply had enough of jihadis.
"I know people from Swat, I've served in Malakand as a political agent," he explains.
"The people hate them and if you see the letters to the editors of all the major newspapers, the people of Swat are writing and they are thanking the army for intervening in a decisive manner.
"They say 'eliminate them, clear up our area, for God's sake', that is the message that is coming from the local people."
In the garrison city of Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, the Taliban have been launching attacks.
Their main target has been the police and hundreds have been killed.
Malik Naveed Khan runs the police force in the province - his own brother was killed in a suicide attack.
"They're being beheaded, they're being kidnapped, their families are being kidnapped. One of our superintendents of police, his brother has been kidnapped and he has been told to resign from the force.
"We are facing this war, but for every victory there have to be sacrifices," he says with little emotion.
If the sixth biggest military cannot take care of 15 or 16 individuals, then I'm sorry, we're not good at it
Khalid Aziz, ex-chief secretary,
North West Frontier Province
He shows me a Taliban propaganda DVD - it contains the most disgusting images I have ever seen, including the beheading of a policeman, standing head-hooded, decapitated with a single blow of the sword.
But who are the Taliban?
It is one word for a complicated and disparate movement.
Khalid Aziz, former chief secretary of North West Frontier Province, says the answer is to start at the top.
"We must separate it, we must identify the leadership," he says.
"If you look at it, how many people would be involved in the top leadership - 15 or 20. If the sixth biggest military cannot take care of 15 or 16 individuals, then I'm sorry, we're not good at it.
"If we have not contained it and it goes to Lahore and the rest of the area, we will lose the country," he warns.
In the balance
His fears are real - the jihadis have already killed in Lahore and suicide bombers have launched three attacks from the city so far this year.
And then there was the brazen attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.
Police officer helps a wounded colleague
Police officers are increasingly being targeted by the Taliban
But is it possible, in return, to directly target the Taliban leadership?
Gen Tarik Khan has led the military's fight against the Taliban for the past three or four years in Pakistan.
He has a ferocious reputation, but says there are limits to what he can do.
"Any kind of military operation that seeks to take out individuals is an intelligence-driven operation that requires a lot of technology, a lot of surveillance capacity, which we don't have.
"I have boots on the ground and troops that I can organise to go against organised resistance and cohesive militancy, but I can't really go after individuals," he says.
When American politicians hear statements like that they begin to get rather irritated.
Washington, they point out, has spent a very large amount of money in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks.
Sen Bob Menendez, like many others have been asking questions.
In a recent congressional hearing he demanded to know where the military aid America had already given Pakistan had gone.
"How come the general spearheading the fight still doesn't have the equipment that he needs? We don't even know where significant amounts of this money went to. That's $12bn later."
Pakistan is a very different place compared to three months ago. People now say they have simply had enough.
Nevertheless, the army has left it late to confront its enemy, too late maybe to think that victory can be won by just targeting the top leadership.
The militants are well equipped and well trained.
This is a conflict that could go on for years.
Owen Bennett-Jones will be broadcasting from Pakistan for the BBC World Service's Newshour programme from 25 to 27 May at 1300BST and 1400BST.
READ MORE - Tide turns against the Taliban

The human cost of war on the Taliban

Pakistan's operations against militants have won praise from Washington but displaced thousands of innocent people

The latest chapter in Pakistan's war with the Taliban has been a humanitarian disaster for ordinary villagers from Malakand Agency, the region in Pakistan's lower Himalayas where the battle is now being fought.
Malakand was where a now-infamous peace agreement between the government and a pro-Taliban group was meant to see an end to the insurgency in exchange for a Taliban-style justice system.

The latest wave of a million displaced people join almost another million who, since last August, have already been made homeless by the war with the Taliban in other parts of Pakistan's tribal areas.

But numbers alone, unrivalled at present by any other conflict in the world, tell only so much.

"I cannot stop thinking about my neighbour, a widow with her two kids, who can't afford transport charges," says Zahid from Mingora, the Swat valley's largest city and a Taliban stronghold that is currently under intense army bombardment. "She might be killed during [army] shelling. Our area has been targeted for the last three days."
Displacement is not a new phenomenon in this conflict. Even before last August people were fleeing war zones in at least four tribal areas. Relief efforts from the government and the non-government sector have finally stepped up. Yet when the army launched this largest-ever assault on the Taliban, it and the government were ill-prepared for the highly predictable, massive flow of refugees.
In Washington there has been loud praise for the army's assaults. The perception is that it is finally cracking down on militants and there were few words for the displaced. Despite the many regional experts employed by the State Department and the almost daily reports on public sentiments flowing into the American embassy in Islamabad, a key propaganda opportunity has been lost amid the usual debate about Pakistan's stability and nuclear stockpiles.
The US insists it is seeking to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Pakistanis, a nation whose antipathy for America is close to unrivalled.
But, as Manan Ahmed highlighted recently, the US has always invested in Pakistan's military establishment as the only guarantor of stability in a country apparently always on the verge of collapse.
The fate of ordinary Pakistanis has mattered little to Washington over the years, or Pakistan's elite for that matter.
The scale of the death and suffering is such, however, that sympathy for the displaced has become a political necessity for both.
Last week US Congress finally passed the Kerry-Lugar Bill which aims to inject $7.5bn in non-military aid into Pakistan, including areas affected by the Taliban. A further $1.9bn in mixed aid has been approved.
How much of that aid will actually reach the neediest is still unclear. The rich still live well in Pakistan, and, as the economy founders, the bureaucrats have been ordered to slash public sector development programmes.
Don't expect army expenditure to be slashed, though. For the first time since the army began fighting the Taliban, there is overwhelming support from all mainstream political parties and the urban centres of Pakistan. At religious conferences arranged by the government throughout the nation this week, Islamic scholars denounced the Taliban as apostates. An "all parties" conference of politicians hosted by the prime minister also endorsed the army operations. That included the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif in a sign that he too can sing from Washington's song sheet.
Some, like religious leaders and the interior adviser, Rehman Malik, blame "enemies of Pakistan" for stoking the Taliban – a euphemism for clandestine interference by the US, Israel and India. This indicates that there is still much denial of the role played by local actors in creating the country's present problems ever since prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto officially made Pakistan an "Islamic state" in 1973 for political purposes.
Out of fear of attacks by Taliban infiltrators, most politicians have stayed away from all but the safest camps at Mardan and Peshawar where the world's media has congregated until the bandwagon moves on to the next story.
The sea of humanity ruined by this conflict deserve better than this. Like the families of those killed in US drone attacks along the Durand Line, they deserve compensation and a public apology. Under the tribal honour code of these parts, known as the Pakhtunwali, nothing is more respected than helping those in distress.
Like all military forces, the Taliban requires a military response. But planes and night vision goggles won't prevent grievance-fuelled radicalisation in the temporary camps of Malakand, Mardan and Peshawar that may well turn into long-term slums.
The Taliban's rag-tag network of warlords has been successful not because of its guns but because of the state's abject indifference towards the poverty, unemployment and corruption in places where often the only investment has been in religious seminaries.
The army claims to have killed more than 1,000 militants, but it is difficult to verify this. Many of those fleeing the fighting say it is them, and not the Taliban, who are being killed. For their part, local Taliban say they are far from vanquished.
"The army can't face us on the ground [due to the mountainous terrain] and we have mined the whole of the area so they can't come forward from their check posts," said a Taliban spokesperson from Swat.
This may be bluster, but the village communities forced to flee the violence may never recover.
"First I left my job due to threat of Taliban because they did not like women's education. Now I have to leave my sweet home," says Rukhsana, a schoolteacher from the village of Shamozai in Swat. "We survived [the army] shelling but we don't know what the future holds."
READ MORE - The human cost of war on the Taliban

Arms Sent by U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands

A soldier in the Second Platoon, Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, last month in the Korangal Valley, Afghanistan. The platoon captured what looked like American-issued munitions.

KABUL — Insurgents in Afghanistan, fighting from some of the poorest and most remote regions on earth, have managed for years to maintain an intensive guerrilla war against materially superior American and Afghan forces.

Tracing Taliban Arms
Weapons from a police post linked to an attack on Americans. Most rifles were the kind issued by the United States.

Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.

The presence of this ammunition among the dead in the Korangal Valley, an area of often fierce fighting near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, strongly suggests that munitions procured by the Pentagon have leaked from Afghan forces for use against American troops.

The scope of that diversion remains unknown, and the 30 magazines represented a single sampling of fewer than 1,000 cartridges. But military officials, arms analysts and dealers say it points to a worrisome possibility: With only spotty American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent into Afghanistan during an eight-year conflict, poor discipline and outright corruption among Afghan forces may have helped insurgents stay supplied.

The United States has been criticized, as recently as February by the federal Government Accountability Office, for failing to account for thousands of rifles issued to Afghan security forces. Some of these weapons have been documented in insurgents’ hands, including weapons in a battle last year in which nine Americans died.

In response, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the American-led unit tasked with training and supplying Afghan forces, said it had made accountability of all Afghan police and military property a top priority, and taken steps to locate and log rifles issued even years ago. The Pentagon has created a database of small arms issued to Afghan units.

No similarly thorough accountability system exists for ammunition, which is harder to trace and more liquid than firearms, readily changing hands through corruption, illegal sales, theft, battlefield loss and other forms of diversion.

American forces do not examine all captured arms and munitions to trace how insurgents obtained them, or to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier, military officers said.

The reasons include limited resources and institutional memory of issued arms, as well as an absence of collaboration between field units that collect equipment and the investigators and supervisors in Kabul who could trace it.

In this case, the rifle magazines were captured last month by a platoon in Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, which killed at least 13 insurgents in a nighttime ambush in eastern Afghanistan. The soldiers searched the insurgents’ remains and collected 10 rifles, a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, 30 magazines and other equipment.

Access to Taliban equipment is unusual. But after the ambush, the company allowed the items to be examined by this reporter.

Photographs were taken of the weapons’ serial numbers and markings on the bottoms of the cartridge casings, known as headstamps, which can reveal where and when ammunition was manufactured. The headstamps were then compared with ammunition in government circulation, and with this reporter’s records of ammunition sampled in Afghan magazines and bunkers in multiple provinces in recent years.

The type of ammunition in question, 7.62x39 millimeter, colloquially known as “7.62 short,” is one of the world’s most abundant classes of military small-arms cartridges, and can come from dozens of potential suppliers.

It is used in Kalashnikov rifles and their knockoffs, and has been made in many countries, including Russia, China, Ukraine, North Korea, Cuba, India, Pakistan, the United States, the former Warsaw Pact nations and several countries in Africa. Several countries have multiple factories, each associated with distinct markings.
The examination of the Taliban’s cartridges found telling signs of diversion: 17 of the magazines contained ammunition bearing either of two stamps: the word “WOLF” in uppercase letters, or the lowercase arrangement “bxn.”

“WOLF” stamps mark ammunition from Wolf Performance Ammunition, a company in California that sells Russian-made cartridges to American gun owners. The company has also provided cartridges for Afghan soldiers and police officers, typically through middlemen. Its munitions can be found in Afghan government bunkers.

The “bxn” marking was formerly used at a Czech factory during the cold war. Since 2004, the Czech government has donated surplus ammunition and equipment to Afghanistan. A.E.Y. Inc., a former Pentagon supplier, also shipped surplus Czech ammunition to Afghanistan, according to the United States Army, including cartridges bearing “bxn” stamps.

Most of the Wolf and Czech ammunition in the Taliban magazines was in good condition and showed little weathering, denting, corrosion or soiling, suggesting it had been removed from packaging recently.

There is no evidence that Wolf, the Czech government or A.E.Y. knowingly shipped ammunition to Afghan insurgents. A.E.Y. was banned last year from doing business with the Pentagon, but its legal troubles stemmed from unrelated allegations of fraud.

Given the number of potential sources, the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources was small.

Rather, the concentration of Taliban ammunition identical in markings and condition to that used by Afghan units indicated that the munitions had most likely slipped from state custody, said James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group in Geneva.
READ MORE - Arms Sent by U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands

Iran Test Fires Missile

TEHRAN, Iran —  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran test-fired a new advanced missile with a range capable of reaching Israel and U.S. Mideast bases, sending a provocative message days after President Barack Obama pressured Tehran to accept his offer for a dialogue.

The U.S. has criticized Iran's missile development and said such launches stoke instability in the Middle East.
The solid-fuel Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile tested has a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike at southeastern Europe. It is a new version of the Sajjil missile, which Iran said it had successfully tested late last year with a similar range. Many analysts said the launch of the Sajjil was significant because solid fuel missiles are more accurate than liquid fuel missiles of similar range, such as Iran's Shahab-3.

"Defense Minister (Mostafa Mohammad Najjar) has informed me that the Sajjil-2 missile, which has very advanced technology, was launched from Semnan and it landed precisely on the target," state radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. He spoke during a visit to the city of Semnan, 125 miles east of the capital Tehran, where Iran's space program is centered.

Ahmadinejad is running for re-election in a June 12 vote and has been criticized by his opponents and others for antagonizing the U.S. and mismanaging the country's faltering economy. Iran said Wednesday that its constitutional watchdog has approved three prominent candidates to challenge Ahmadinejad, setting up a showdown between reformists and hard-liners.

Iran's nuclear and missile programs have alarmed Israel. The country's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pressed Obama to step up pressure on Tehran when the two met in Washington on Monday. Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the Iranian missile launch.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel's elimination, and the Jewish state has not ruled out a military strike to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

After he met Netanyahu, Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Iran if it shunned U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. The American president said he expected a positive response to his outreach for opening a dialogue with Iran by the end of the year. So far, the Obama administration has received a mixed response from Ahmadinejad.

In Washington, the White House had no immediate response to the purported missile test.

Most Western analysts believe Iran does not yet have the technology to produce nuclear weapons, including warheads for long-range missiles. The U.S. released an intelligence report about 18 months ago that said Iran abandoned a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003 under international pressure and has not restarted it.
Israel and several other countries have disputed the finding, but many in the West at least agree that Iran is seeking to develop the capability to develop weapons at some point. A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued Tuesday that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that.

The study published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles "in perhaps six to eight years."

Iran says its missile program is merely for defense and its space program is for scientific and surveillance purposes. It maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian energy uses only.

After the testing of the Sajjil in November, a senior U.S. military official said Washington believed Iran was testing the first stage of what would be a two-stage rocket. Multiple stages allow long-range missiles to use less fuel.

Ahmadinejad touted the launch in the final weeks of a presidential campaign that could influence Iran's response to the U.S. outreach. Two of the three candidates approved by Iran's constitutional watchdog to run in the June election are reformists who favor improving ties with the West.

Hard-liners have used the Guardian Council in the past to block reformist candidates, but Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi were likely too high-profile to reject. The watchdog also approved a well known conservative candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, a former leader of Iraq's elite Revolutionary Guards who has joined his reformist competitors in criticizing Ahmadinejad for mismanaging Iran's economy.

The group rejected 471 other candidates who wanted to run, including illiterate peasants, a 12-year-old boy and 42 women, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Reformists, who believe they have a strong chance of defeating Ahmadinejad, have criticized the president for spending an inordinate amount of time and energy slamming the West. They say his behavior has isolated Iran and believe he should have focused on battling rising unemployment and inflation in the country.

Mousavi, a former prime minister who is seen as the leading challenger to Ahmadinejad, has said he would reshape Iran's policies and restore the country's dignity.
READ MORE - Iran Test Fires Missile

Kim Jong Il Grooming Middle Son as Successor

SEOUL, South Korea —  North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is grooming his middle son as successor, not the youngest son as has been widely speculated, a news report said Wednesday quoting a former political aide who defected.
Kim Jong Chol is holding a secret high-level post in the North's ruling Workers' Party as part of his successor training and reports directly to the leader, Seoul's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper quoted defector Kim Duk Hong as saying.
The 29-year-old "is highly likely to take over the father's post," Kim said.
Who will eventually rule the nuclear-armed North has been the focus of intense media speculation since leader Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last summer.
Kim succeeded his father, who died in 1994, in communism's first hereditary power succession. He rules the country with absolute authority and has allowed no opposition, raising concerns about a power struggle if he dies suddenly without naming a successor.
Wednesday's report contrasts with widespread media speculation that leader Kim considers the middle son too "girlish" to become leader, and is grooming the third and youngest son, Jong Un, 26, as his successor.

Media reports have said the Swiss-educated middle son is suffering from an excess of female hormones.
Kim's eldest son, Jong Nam, 38, had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father — until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001, reportedly telling Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The paper said the defector declined to reveal where he obtained the information. He was an aide to former North Korean parliamentary speaker Hwang Jang Yop, and the two defected to the South in 1997. Hwang is the highest-level Pyongyang official ever to defect to Seoul.
Seoul's Unification Ministry and the spy agency National Intelligence Service said they cannot confirm the report.
READ MORE - Kim Jong Il Grooming Middle Son as Successor

Crusade for Christian Military

"I think that's anything but the truth. You know, what we see on that videotape is really just the tip of the iceberg, on US soldiers' attempt to convert Afghans, editor says.

The Crusade for a Christian Military": Are US Forces Trying to Convert Afghans to Christianity?
The military is denying it allows its soldiers to proselytize to Afghans, following the release of footage showing US soldiers in Afghanistan discussing how to distribute Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. We speak to Air Force veteran and former Reagan administration counsel Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and journalist Jeff Sharlet, author of a Harper's Magazine article on "The Crusade for a Christian Military."


Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor for Harper's Magazine. He is author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which is coming out in paperback next month.

Mikey Weinstein, Air Force veteran and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A registered Republican, he served as legal counsel to the Reagan administration for three years. He is the author of With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military.

AMY GOODMAN: The former prime minister of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, has called for an investigation into allegations that US soldiers are trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. He said, quote, "This is a complete deviation from what they are supposed to be doing."

His comments come after a report on Al Jazeera showed footage of soldiers at Bagram Air Base discussing how to distribute Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. The US military is denying it allows its soldiers to proselytize to Afghans. The military claims the Bibles shown in the video had been confiscated and destroyed and were "never distributed." Admiral Mike Mullen told a Pentagon briefing Monday, quote, "It certainly is, from the United States military's perspective, not our position to ever push any specific kind of religion, period."

The Pentagon has also sharply criticized Al Jazeera for releasing the year-old footage, which was shot by filmmaker and former soldier Brian Hughes. Military spokesperson Colonel Greg Julian said, quote, "Most of this is taken out of context. This is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism. There is no effort to go out and proselytize to Afghans."

Well, on Tuesday, Al Jazeera released unedited footage of the US soldiers' Bible study in Bagram to counter the Pentagon's allegations. These excerpts from the unedited video show military chaplain, Captain Emmit Furner, leading the discussion on the definition of the US Central Command's General Order Number One that explicitly forbids active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion.

CAPTAIN EMMIT FURNER: By all means, do as scripture tells you to do and share the word, but be careful how you do it. Do it professionally; represent the Christian faith in a professional manner. Proselytizing is against the rules. That means going out and just actively seeking out somebody. I'm not going to say a lot about it. Just be careful. Remember to represent the Christian faith in a respectable, professional manner. And there are ways to win people to Christ that not overbearing or offensive to people. There are ways to do it.

Why do you think there's a general order against it, proselytizing? Do we know what it means in order to proselytize?

SOLDIER: You mean, Army [inaudible] a general order?

SOLDIER: It's General Order Number One.

CAPTAIN EMMIT FURNER: Number one, man.

SERGEANT JON WATT: You cannot proselytize, but you can give [inaudible].

CAPTAIN EMMIT FURNER: Alright, let's talk about it. What do you think? Our ability to interact with the culture here is important for our mission in this country, so we can eventually hand this thing back over them to let them do their own thing. The more that we win over the hearts and minds, the better we're going to be in accomplishing our mission to eradicate insurgents and Taliban and everybody else who's bad. We want more on our side, and we're not going to have more on our side if they see us as Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, critical people. I'm not saying you don't share the word. That's what you do as a Christian. But you share the word in a smart manner: love, respect, consideration for their culture and their religion. That's what a Christian does is appreciation for other human beings. But at the same time, I'm not telling you not to share the word of God. I'm telling you to share the word of God, but be smart about it, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Another part of the unedited footage released by Al Jazeera shows Sergeant Jon Watt, the chaplain's assistant, describing his experience of distributing Bibles in Iraq.

SERGEANT JON WATT: The expressions that I got from the people in Iraq was just phenomenal. They were hungry for the word. And the carpet seller, when I bought my carpet, and then I put it away and came back to buy it from him, he kissed it three times and saying "Thank you" three times.

When I had plumbers working on my building, the we could have moved into a brand new building on Camp Liberty, and I've been talking with the guy for a while, and there was three plumbers [inaudible] Hummer, and they jumped out of the back of it, and the guy was going, "In Arabic? In Arabic? Is it in Arabic?" because they can't [inaudible] the Bibles, and yet the Koran tells them that is the word of God.

So you make it as a gift, not as—you know, you don't have to sit there and—if you make it as a gift and walk away from them, you know, I know like as our mission especially shows friendship, so the guy wants the Bible, and he can have it. That's great. I know that a couple of the guys have got friendships built with Afghanis. That's great. Otherwise, just let them remember they can have—where they can get it. Do not bring it personally. That way, you're not in violation of the regulation, because that was what was determined from sticking into the regulations and everything, and the chaplains were saying you could to do it this way.

AMY GOODMAN: The initial report aired by Al Jazeera included footage of Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, calling on soldiers to hunt people for Jesus.

LT. COL. GARY HENSLEY: The Special Forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That's what we do. That's our business.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm joined now by two guests who have closely followed this story. Jeff Sharlet is the contributing editor for Harper's Magazine. He joins us from Rochester, New York. He's author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American [Power], which is coming out in paperback next month. His latest article is the cover story of the May issue of Harper's Magazine. It's called "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military."

And we're joined from Albuquerque at KNME-PBS by Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A registered Republican, he served as legal counsel to the Reagan administration for three years and is author of With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military.

We did call Colonel Greg Julian in Afghanistan and invited him on the program. He said, "We have a war to fight here," and was unable to join us.

Jeff Sharlet, first you. Talk about your reaction to these videotapes and the response by the military that it's taken out of context.

JEFF SHARLET: I think that's anything but the truth. You know, what we see on that videotape is really just the tip of the iceberg. When Mikey Weinstein, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, came to me and said, "You know, you should be writing about this subject," I was a little skeptical that it could be as widespread as they said. But in more than a hundred interviews at every rank, I encountered that same kind of thinking. And the same kind of thing that you see there on display with Lieutenant-Colonel Hensley is replicated over and over and over, from private to general. But most frighteningly, it's concentrated in the Officer Corps.

AMY GOODMAN: You write extensively about Hensley. Tell us who he is and the significance of this videotape.

JEFF SHARLET: Well, Lieutenant-Colonel Hensley, that you see in that videotape, you know, talking about hunting people for Jesus, was at the time the top chaplain, top military chaplain in Afghanistan. And I don't know if you can quite make it out on that videotape, if you look closer at the T-shirt he's wearing, it shows his affiliation with a sort of fundamentalist group called Chapel NeXt. And you can see a sort of a Christian cross inscribed over a map of Afghanistan.

And if you follow that—I mean, the rest of that footage is just as equally disturbing. At one point, speaking of the sort of the apocalyptic times that he believes we're in, he says that, you know, the US soldiers there have a mission basically to, you know, carry out the work of God. And then he declares that we, meaning the US military, "We are the new Israel," and repeats this for emphasis, "We are the new Israel."

You know, I would have thought that was—this guy was just a kind of a rogue, a maverick, if I didn't speak to so many other officers with just the same attitude. In the story, I talk about Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Young, who is also in Afghanistan at Kandahar Air Base, and he was quite plain in boasting about a PowerPoint presentation he had given to Afghan warlords explaining that American government was based on Christianity, that our Christian god was what made it great, and Afghanistan had a choice if it wanted to achieve democracy. And of course that choice was going to be for Jesus.

These people don't even know that they're crossing the line between church and state.

AMY GOODMAN: The title of your piece in Harper's is called "Jesus Killed Mohammed." Tell us where this comes from.

JEFF SHARLET: Well, after about a year of interviewing military personnel, this was, in some ways, the most frightening story that I encountered. A man named Staff Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey, one of the very few soldiers who, in this military climate, had the courage to come forward and speak out about what he had seen, he had been stationed in Samarra. It was Easter. The day began calmly. A chaplain brought around a copy of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic film Passion of the Christ, which they then put on constant play throughout the day.

When they came under attack, the Special Forces, Army Special Forces to whom he was assigned, had their Iraqi translator, an Iraqi American Christian, paint in giant red Arabic letters on the side of a Bradley fighting vehicle the words "Jesus killed Mohammed." Then, while they put the translator on the roof with a bullhorn, shouting in Arabic, "Jesus killed Mohammed," and then training their guns, training American guns on anybody who responded, the Bradley fighting vehicle rolled out into the city of Samarra and drawing fire everywhere it went, leading the Special Forces to conclude that every single Iraqi who took offense at these words, "Jesus killed Mohammed," was part of the enemy and therefore needed to be destroyed.

And I spoke to the man who drove that Bradley, Lieutenant John DeGiulio, now Captain John DeGiulio, promoted since. And he describes wreaking almost biblical destruction on one whole block, blowing up every single thing he saw. And he said he was able to do this, because God was on his side and because he had been spiritually armored by watching Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. And then he thanked his chaplain for preparing him for that kind of spiritual battle on the streets of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Mikey Weinstein, Air Force veteran, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, talk about how common this is and this videotape, what is your understanding of it, and how you experienced this in the military, if you did.

MIKEY WEINSTEIN: Well, Amy, there's a couple things. The first is, is that everyone remembers Eisenhower's famous farewell speech, which was warning America of the dangers of a military-industrial complex. What we're really faced with here is a fundamentalist-Christian-para-church-military-corporate-proselytizing complex.

A few months ago, a four-star general, a commander in the US military—I won't give his exact name, but commands hundreds of thousands of troops—asked me, "How bad is it, Mikey?" And I'll tell your viewers today, and I'll show them, exactly what I did. I said, "General, hold your pen six-and-a-half inches above your desk. Now drop it," as I've just dropped that pen. I asked him why it dropped. And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Why did it drop?" He said, "Well, gravity." That is how bad this is. It is that ubiquitous. It is that—it is in the very particulate of the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind, which is our US military. It's everywhere. We're about two inches away, you know, from a fundamentalist Christian America through our US military.

You know, I've come from a conservative military Republican family with three generations of Military Academy graduates. Three of my kids have graduated from the Air Force Academy. The only journalist that has grasped this and moved it into the mainstream media has been Jeff Sharlet. And he was incredibly, you know, skeptical when we first started talking a couple of years ago.

And I beg everybody out there to at least just do two things. You know, read Jeff's book—you know, it's more than ten pages, so you actually have to read it—The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, or Empire, or whatever you want to say, and then the Harper's cover story by Jeff.

It's very incontrovertible. What you saw in that, what Al Jazeera released, is nothing new. We've been talking about it forever. But there are hundreds of thousands of translated—into Arabic, Pashto, Dari—biblical tracks, Bibles, coins. There are so many para-church organizations: the Worldwide Military Baptist Missions, the Soldiers Bible Ministry, the Campus Crusades Military Ministry. You can't count them all. This is how bad it is. And, you know, docile and supine America needs to wake up, because what we're doing, we look exactly like the Crusaders of 1096 to the Iraqis and now the Afghans. And that's all there is to it, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Mikey Weinstein, tell us what the Christian Embassy video is.

MIKEY WEINSTEIN: This was first written about by Jeff in, I think it was 2006—wasn't it, Jeff?—in an article in Harper's that came out.


MIKEY WEINSTEIN: And we took a look at this, and I was astonished. I remember it was Thanksgiving Day, and I was trying to find a way to stay out of the kitchen, so I wouldn't have to help with the meal. I was reading Jeff's story, and this thing blew up in my mind, couldn't believe what I saw.

This was a group of senior Pentagon officials, some of them like Pete Geren, who's currently the Secretary of the Army, a number of generals and other folks that were in uniform being filmed in the Pentagon, and they were pushing the mission of this extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian organization called the Christian Embassy.

We demanded—we held a press conference at the National Press Club on December 11th, I think it was, 2006, demanded that the brand new Secretary, Gates, who had taken over for Rumsfeld, that he conduct an investigation. And the DODIG came back. And earlier in Democracy Now! today, we saw what one of the DODIG reports talked about with regard to those seventy-five senior military officials that were trying to sell the validity of invading Iraq. And that report came back and faulted seven of the senior officials for clearly crossing the line, not constitutionally, but essentially for wearing their Halloween costumes, their uniforms, at the wrong time. And most of them have since been promoted.

And what generally happens when we catch the military desecrating the Constitution, which is pretty much every couple of hours, is that, you know, they stretch the crime scene tape, they say, "Move on, move one." Their code one is it didn't happen. Code two is it's an isolated incident. Code three, it was taken out of context. And to Colonel Julian, who was too much of a coward to come on Democracy Now! today, when he says we have a war to fight, well, unfortunately, the war seems to be between fundamentalist Christians and the Constitution.

What I would say to him is what Martin Luther King said, which is, in the end, Colonel Julian and Pentagon, we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. And there comes a time when silence becomes betrayal. And our United States military, in the main, is betraying the oath it took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, not a particular weaponized gospel perspective of Jesus Christ, of which Jeff speaks about and has written about for many years.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Sharlet, talk about the transformation of military culture. You do it very well, talking from World War II to now. If you could briefly tell us how it has changed.

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah. You know, you could almost tell the story through one organization, Officers Christian Fellowship, which began in the World War II era. It was just what it sounds like, a fellowship of officers, mostly evangelical and conservative Christians. And it was fine. It was officers who wanted to get together and share their faith, and that's why we have the First Amendment, so they can do that.

Things started changing. After Vietnam, you stopped seeing a lot of liberal chaplains from the liberal Christian denominations. They didn't want to serve in the military anymore. It really accelerated under Ronald Reagan, who took away all the restrictions and regulations that ensured, when you saw a chaplain in the military, it really was a little bit like Father Mulcahy, you know, someone who—Father Mulcahy in MASH is Catholic, but, of course, he can help and minister to everybody, and he's trained to do that. Reagan wiped that out, so that the Chaplain Corps became predominantly fundamentalist. Some chaplains estimate today it's about 80 percent fundamentalist.

And then things really picked up after 9/11, when this group, Officers Christian Fellowship, started seeing America's conflicts as what they described as "spiritual war." And what's really frightening is they describe it as a spiritual conflict between good and evil. They describe Mikey Weinstein as Satanic. This show would be Satanic from their perspective. And that's the problem. They see—not only do they see those whom they're fighting overseas as part of the opposition, but they see even those within the military who are not a part of their movement as, at best, unwitting tools of Satan.

I mean, this sounds like loony stuff, but then you look at the size of the organization. It's 15,000 members. It's growing at three percent a year. It's represented on 80 percent of military installations around the world. And you see, really, the fruition of a very long campaign that predates George Bush, to view the military as what missionaries called a mission field, not a branch of government, but as a place to go and harvest souls. And they've been successful now. And as Mikey Weinstein says, they're so dominant within the military that they have become, in some ways, the mainstream rather than the fringe.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff, we only have a minute, but President Bush was close to the religious right. Obama isn't as close to the religious right. Will this change the military? And what about his associations with Rick Warren, who was—you know, who gave one of the prayers at the inauguration?

JEFF SHARLET: Well, if things go as planned, a general named Mike Gould is about to take over at the Air Force Academy, where Mikey Weinstein has been fighting for years for First Amendment freedoms. Mike Gould—in my story, I report, when he was at the Pentagon, he forced on his subordinates Rick Warren's teachings, regardless of his subordinates' religions. He said, "You need to look at Rick Warren." That guy is about to be promoted under Obama. No one thinks Obama shares these points of view. I think there was some hope when he came in. And I think Mikey had hoped that there would be some real action. And instead, we see the same old guys being held over and, in many cases, even promoted. And it seems that Obama has taken a hands-off approach to this problem and is just ignoring it, and that's only going to allow the movement to grow stronger.

AMY GOODMAN: Mikey Weinstein, ten seconds.

MIKEY WEINSTEIN: I would say that this is not a fight between Christianity and Judaism or between Christianity and Islam. It's not a political spectrum, left or right, issue. It's a constitutional right and wrong issue. And that's what most of our military has forgotten or is deliberately, willingly, you know, forgetting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Mikey Weinstein, Air Force veteran, his book is With God on Our Side. And I want to thank Jeff Sharlet, whose cover story of Harper's Magazine, author of the book The Family.
READ MORE - Crusade for Christian Military

Clinton announces $110 million in refugee aid for Pakistan

Pakistani displaced people wait their turn to food stuff from a distribution point of World Food Program at the Jalozai camp in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, May 19, 2009.
Mohammad Sajjad/AP

The aid is partly to offset anger at the US-supported counterinsurgency campaign.

With Pakistan facing its worst refugee crisis since partition from India 60 years ago, the US is providing $110 million in emergency assistance for as many as 2 million refugees who have fled fighting in the Swat Valley.

The United States often provides emergency aid in such circumstances, but the sizable assistance announced Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has a particular objective: to ease the hardship of Pakistanis who have been routed from their homes by fighting that the Pakistani military has pursued, at US insistence, against the Taliban.

With the US embarking on a new policy toward Pakistan that aims to defeat the country's extremist elements by winning over the population, the last thing the US needs is to start out even further behind in the battle for hearts and minds. As Secretary Clinton hinted in announcing the aid, the Obama administration wants to encourage the Pakistani people's early signs of cooperation and common purpose against the Taliban.
"We face a common threat, a common challenge, and now a common task," Clinton said in a White House briefing. "We have seen an enormous amount of support and determination out of the Pakistani government, military, and people in the last weeks to tackle the extremist challenge."

At least since last year, some members of Congress and a growing number of Pakistan and counterterrorism experts have concluded that a crucial missing ingredient in US policy was closer contact with the Pakistani people. This new aid package, while addressing a particular crisis, is also a "first step" in that new policy, some experts in the region say.

"For the last year, the consensus in Washington has been that we needed to create a stronger link to the Pakistani people, that that was in fact the missing link in our relations with a critical part of the world," says Frederick Barton, co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. "This is a terrific first step to show we do care about the Pakistani people and not just about Afghanistan or terror."

America's image suffers from particularly low ratings in Pakistan. That has put the Pakistani government in a tight spot as it has come under US pressure for action against the Taliban, which this year has advanced beyond its traditional strongholds along the Afghan border. The Swat Valley, where fighting is now concentrated, is 70 miles outside the capital of Islamabad.
Earlier this year, US officials turned particularly frank in their criticism of Pakistan's government and military as an accord was signed with the Taliban allowing it to apply harsh Islamic law in Swat. The alarm rose as the Taliban used its Swat base to try to take over the adjacent Buner District, even closer to the capital.
But that advance has jarred the Pakistani government into action – the military offensive that it says has killed 1,000 Taliban fighters but has also uprooted 2 million civilians. It is this new government resolve that the US wants to encourage, while easing the living conditions of refugees.
"What the Pakistanis are doing now deserves our full support," Clinton said. "They're doing it, and we're encouraging them to do it because we think it's in their interests. But we also believe it's in the interests of our long-term struggle against extremism and, in particular, the Al Qaeda network."
Al Qaeda's leadership is thought to be holed up in the rugged terrain of Pakistan's northwest tribal areas.
Five US senators, in a letter Tuesday to President Obama, said they were concerned that a failure by the international community to meet the Pakistani humanitarian crisis would provide a vacuum for the country's extremist elements to fill.
"We are deeply concerned that if not adequately addressed, the crisis could undermine the Pakistani government and compromise our ability to help stabilize the country," wrote Sens. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, Bob Casey Jr. (D) of Pennsylvania, and Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona. "We note with concern that the media is reporting the charity wings of designated terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba are already rushing to provide assistance in the absence of a sufficient government response."
In providing the assistance, the US is also harking back to the effectiveness of emergency aid it provided to Indonesia at the time of the 2004 tsunami, and to Pakistan in 2005 following a devastating earthquake. In both cases, US officials on the ground offered evidence that the quick American response to human needs was much more effective in changing people's attitudes about the US than more-traditional public-relations campaigns and government-to-government contacts.
The earthquake aid was "a success to refer to," says Mr. Barton of CSIS. "It suggested how we might start addressing this crying need to establish some kind of trust and relationship with the Pakistani people."
In presenting the new aid, Clinton noted the effort will include a number of new-tech "tools" for meeting the challenge. The US will work with the Pakistani government to put the refugees' cellphones to use, letting them know when and where aid is available. Cellphones and text messaging will also be used to try to link separated family members.
Americans can also get in the act, she said. By texting the word "swat" to the number 20222, anyone can make a $5 donation to the UN High Commissioner's Office for Refugees for use in the Swat Valley crisis. Clinton said she tested the donation system before announcing it, and it worked.
READ MORE - Clinton announces $110 million in refugee aid for Pakistan
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