Iran to test fire missile capable of hitting Israel

Iranian short-range missile is test-launched during war games in Qom, 120 kms south of Tehran
(Shaigan/AFP/Getty Images)

The missiles tested were the Fateh-110 and Tondar-69
Iran announced plans today to test-fire a long-range missile capable of hitting Israel as it adopted a defiant stance over its nuclear capability.
It also fired several short-range missiles using a multiple rocket launching system for the first time during military exercises by the regime's Revolutionary Guards.
General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said that Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on tonight and long-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during drills set to last several days.
It is thought the Shahab-3 now has a range of up to 1,200 miles.
General Salami said that Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles were test-fired today. All are short-range, surface-to-surface missiles.
The official English-language Press TV showed pictures of at least two missiles being fired simultaneously and said they were from Sunday’s drill in a central Iran desert. In the clip, men could be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar" as the missiles were launched.
“We are going to respond to any military action in a crushing manner and it doesn’t make any difference which country or regime has launched the aggression,” General Salami said.
Iran has had the solid-fuel Fateh missile, with a range of 120 miles, for several years. It also has the solid-fuel, Chinese-made CSS 8, also called the Tondar 69, which has a range of about 93 miles.
The multiple launcher used for the first time today is designed for the Zelzal missile, which has a range of up to 185 miles.
The tests came two days after the US and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing a previously unknown underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the nuclear site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.
The newly revealed nuclear site in mountains near the holy city of Qom is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard.
After the strong condemnations from the US and its allies, Iran said yesterday that it would allow UN nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

David Miliband warned that the Middle Eastern regime must take "concrete steps" to allay fears that it is building a nuclear arsenal.
The Foreign Secretary insisted that the focus remained on a diplomatic solution but he repeatedly declined invitations to describe military intervention as "inconceivable".
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, is under pressure over the covert site.
Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Tehran could have nuclear weapons in a year's time.
He said: "If they decided today to go for a nuclear weapon and they didn't care about anybody knowing about it, it's possible they could do it in a year. Probably longer, but if all the steps went like clockwork then maybe a year.
"It's likely that they have some secret facilities and how far along they are in those facilities is a guess.
"If they were to develop a nuclear weapon they would probably do it at a clandestine facility so that they wouldn't trigger the obvious trip wire."
Iranian officials will meet representatives of the E3+3 group of Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China in Geneva next Thursday.
Questioned about the likelihood of military force against Iran, Mr Miliband said: "No sane person looks at the military question of engagement with Iran with anything other than real concern.
"That's why we always say we are 100 per cent committed to the diplomatic track."
But, questioned on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Miliband declined to describe military action as "inconceivable" – the word used by Jack Straw when he was Foreign Secretary.
"I always say to people look at what I do say, not at what I don't say, and what I do say is that we are 100 per cent focused on a diplomatic resolution of this question," Mr Miliband said.
"It's vital that we remain so, it's vital that in the very short term in a meeting next Thursday that the Iranians take practical and concrete steps to address the outstanding questions."
Mr Ahmadinejad said that the new facility would not be operational for 18 months so he had not violated any requirements.
He maintained that Iran opposed nuclear weapons as "inhumane".

READ MORE - Iran to test fire missile capable of hitting Israel

‘ISI protecting Taliban chief Mullah Omar’

London: Parts of ISI are supporting Taliban and protecting their chief Mullah Omar and other militant leaders in Pakistan's Quetta city, where US officials have discussed sending commandos to capture or kill the terrorists, a media report said on Sunday.

The US is threatening to launch air strikes against Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership in Quetta as frustration mounts about the ease with which they find sanctuary across the border from Afghanistan, 'The Sunday Times' reported.

The threat comes amid growing divisions in Washington about whether to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan by sending more troops or by reducing them and targeting the terrorists.

According to the report, US Vice President Joe Biden has suggested reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and focusing on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Quoting western intelligence officers, the report said Taliban leaders are being moved to the volatile city of Karachi, where it would be impossible to strike. It said US officials have even discussed sending commandos to Quetta to capture or kill the Taliban leaders before they are moved.

It said while the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is committed to wiping out terrorism, Pakistan's powerful military does not entirely share the view.

There has been tacit cooperation over the use of US drones. Some are even stationed inside Pakistan, although publicly the government denounces their use, the report said.

Bureau Report
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Afghanistan Pullback: U.S. May Focus On Drone Attacks On Terrorists

WASHINGTON — Military officials voiced frustration and congressional leaders urged caution Tuesday over what they described as President Barack Obama's shifting strategy in Afghanistan, six months after he committed thousands more U.S. troops to the stalemated war there.

Administration officials maintained they were looking at all options to protect the U.S. and its allies by shutting down al-Qaida leaders who are believed to be hiding in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Critics at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill said the White House was in danger of taking its eye off the fight that has turned increasingly deadly for American forces in recent months. They called on Obama to fulfill an anticipated request for more troops from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

"This leads me to urge you to waste no time in providing a clear direction to our commanders and civilian leaders, along with the resources necessary to achieve their mission," House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., wrote to Obama in a letter dated Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. Skelton is the highest-ranking Democrat so far to support sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Warning of what he called the lessons of history, Skelton added: "The last administration allowed itself to be distracted from the fight forced on us in Afghanistan by the fight it chose in Iraq. I believe that this was a strategic mistake, robbing the war in Afghanistan of the necessary resources and resulting in an approach of 'half-ass it and hope.' We cannot afford to continue that policy."

He was referring to then-President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 after largely abandoning the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Military officials who thought the debate over strategy and troop levels had been settled when Obama outlined his mission for the region in March expressed concern Tuesday that seesawing politics could stall decisions and leave commanders in Afghanistan with no clear policy or strategy to follow. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the debate publicly.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has urged Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, said Tuesday, "I've never seen a disconnect like this between the military leadership and the White House on an issue." McCain, who was Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, spoke at a conference hosted by the Washington-based organization, Foreign Policy Initiative.

At the White House, top Obama advisers insist the administration remains committed to its long-stated goal for the war in Afghanistan – disrupting al-Qaida and denying the terrorist organization safe haven on either side of the nation's porous border with Pakistan.

But they remain unconvinced that sending many more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is the way to do it.

"We have an open mind to any argument that is made," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview late Monday on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."

She added: "Our goal is to protect the United States of America, our allies, our friends around the world from what is the epicenter of terrorism – namely, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border."

In recent days, the Obama administration has signaled it is narrowing its focus to Pakistan, since military and White House officials alike agree that very few al-Qaida extremists are believed to still be in Afghanistan.

Benchmarks outlined last week for measuring success in the war against insurgents describe the top American goal for the region as disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan "and especially Pakistan." White House aides are considering launching more missile strikes against al-Qaida targets inside Pakistan from unmanned spy planes.

And in a rash of television interviews that aired Sunday, Obama himself did not focus on saving Afghanistan. In at least four of the interviews, he did not even mention the Taliban, which is allied with al-Qaida and is seeking to reinstate its rule over Afghanistan after being deposed in a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Obama also said it's premature to decide whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 who will be there by the end of the year. Fifty-one American troops died there in August, making it the bloodiest month for the U.S. since the war began in October 2001.

One senior military official said stepping up airstrikes might be difficult and more risky to do without additional forces. Without more troops, coalition forces will be able to secure fewer regions, and the insurgents will only have to move to the areas troops vacate.

The confusion led Republicans and some Democrats to renew demands for McChrystal to testify in front of Congress to personally outline the situation in Afghanistan and his request for more troops and how best to go after al-Qaida.

"It now appears President Obama has buyer's remorse," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. "Congress needs to hear directly from Gen. McChrystal to ensure political motivations here in Washington don't override the needs of our commanders on the ground."

Countering, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said it would be premature for McChrystal to testify until the troop request is delivered to Washington.
READ MORE - Afghanistan Pullback: U.S. May Focus On Drone Attacks On Terrorists

Obama Finally Facing Reality in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Maybe it was the spectacle of all those discredited neocons gathering in Washington to urge him to stay the course in Afghanistan. Or maybe it was the endless nagging from Vice President Biden.
But for whatever reason, President Obama is suddenly said to be rethinking his approach to that benighted country -- possibly even considering Biden's proposal to withdraw troops currently engaged in counter-insurgency and nation-building, and instead focus on counter-terrorism there and in Pakistan.
Should Obama actually change his mind about Afghanistan, our elite journalists -- obsessed as they are with how the game is played -- will almost inevitably characterize this as vacillation and declare it a sign of political weakness. But that really misses the point.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that over the last several months, what's emerged when it comes to Afghan policy is a sort of consensus of the realists -- from across the political spectrum. The consensus: That our national interests in Afghanistan are pretty limited and that the harder we try to change things over there, the more resistance we face; that Afghanistan, after eight years of U.S. occupation, has become a Vietnam-like quagmire where escalation only leads to more escalation, not victory; and that what little we could possibly accomplish there is not worth more American blood.
Pretty much the only people left supporting a massive sustained military approach (no matter how cleverly retooled) are the neocons, the reflexive Obama supporters, and the military commanders charged with carrying it out. Otherwise, a wide swath of experts and politicians -- not to mention a significant majority of the American public -- have concluded that our interests are best served at this point by getting out and certainly not by sending more troops in.
If Obama does change his mind, that will indeed be newsworthy -- but not in a way that reflects poorly on his leadership. We should be more skeptical of a president who never changes his mind than of one who does on occasion, particularly when they're faced with new or overwhelming evidence. What I've particularly craved after eight years of Bush is a president with the ability to admit mistakes. It was an auspicious sign when, less than two weeks into his presidency, Obama publicly and forthrightly admitted he had "screwed up" in nominating two people with tax problems to key positions in his administration.
Since then I've been way more concerned about his inability to cop to subsequent screw-ups than I have been about indecisiveness. I've been particularly alarmed by his inability to express much remorse for the civilian casualties that have been the byproducts of his war. So let's be clear: Changing your mind when you've been wrong is a good thing, not a bad thing; it's a sign of strength, not of weakness.
The most troubling question an Obama change of mind would raise is why he advocated such a bombastic approach to Afghanistan in the first place, starting back when he was campaigning for office. What didn't he understand at the time? Was he getting bad advice? Or was it a purely political stratagem to insulate him from being attacked as a peacenik? If so, at what cost? And whose cost? And why did he actually up the rhetorical ante less than two months ago, telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars that this was a "war of necessity"? Yes, the recent Afghan elections, marked by widespread fraud, produced powerful evidence that there will be no strong, reliable central government in that country anytime in the foreseeable future. But was that really the inflection point? So if Obama changes course, we should well ask: What took him so long?
Another important thing that could happen here is that, by fully explaining his decision, Obama could go a long way toward restoring a balanced and rational sense of what it means to "support the troops." Former president George W. Bush and his political henchmen used that phrase as a bludgeon to beat Democrats into submission on any issue even vaguely related to national security -- even when it actually resulted in putting the troops in greater danger. Most notably, Bush insisted that once troops had been committed to Iraq, he bore the responsibility to make sure they had not died in vain -- and that anything short of victory would be a betrayal of those soldiers who had already made the ultimate sacrifice. Democrats were way too terrified to demand a pullout from Iraq, even when they controlled Congress, for fear of being accused of undercutting our brave fighting men and women.

But the fact is that our modern-age all-volunteer army -- and its do-or-die commanders -- simply can't be relied upon to decide what's best for themselves. They're just not the kind of people to whine, not to mention admit that they can't accomplish the tasks they've been charged with. Sometimes removing them from the field of battle is the best thing a commander in chief can do for the troops - and that's certainly the case if the alternative is to send even more to give their lives for a lost cause. "Do or die" is a glorious motto for warriors, but for their civilian leaders, it would be nice to have another alternative -- particularly when the "do" can't be done.
And one last thing to keep in mind is that Obama's Afghan plan has been missing something hugely important all along: an exit strategy. The plan itself has been vague and open-ended -- and there's been no accounting for what happens if things don't go according to plan. It took the administration until last week to give members of Congress a first look at its proposed "benchmarks" for success, and early reports were not encouraging. And the recent precedent with benchmarks is not good. The Bush administration grudgingly set ambiguous benchmarks for Iraq - then made a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose argument: To the extent that we were meeting them, that was a validation for our presence; to the extent that we weren't, that meant we needed to try even harder. For benchmarks to really mean something, they should serve as clearly identifiable indicators not simply of improvements here or there - but of whether our fundamental goals are in fact attainable. Because if our goals are not attainable, then obviously we should get out of there even faster.
Is Obama really changing his mind about his approach to Afghanistan? Does he have it in him? We don't yet know for certain. But if he does decide to face reality, that's something many of us should celebrate rather than criticize. Facing reality, no matter how ugly that reality is, is always better than the alternative.
READ MORE - Obama Finally Facing Reality in Afghanistan

Americans divided over 'war on terror' in Afghanistan, reveals poll

London, Sep.23 : A latest opinion poll has revealed that Americans are divided over the US led 'war on terror' in Afghanistan.

Buzz up!
The issue which emerged as one of the most important factors during Barack Obama's election campaign is slowly losing its political importance much like Iraq, the poll has revealed.


According to the latest FOX News poll, about 51 percent of the Americans approve of Obama's Afghan policy, while almost one-third are not happy with the President's strategy regarding the eight year long war.

Seventeen percent people do not have any views on the topic.

Regarding their overall view of the war in Afghanistan, while 46 percent support it, an equal number of Americans, 45 percent, oppose it.

While surprisingly members of Obama's own Democratic Party oppose the war by a nearly a two-to-one margin, (62 percent to 33 percent), 66 percent Republicans support it.

When asked that whether they supported the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan, half of the Americans (50 percent) opposed it, while 41 percent people supported the view.
READ MORE - Americans divided over 'war on terror' in Afghanistan, reveals poll

Stadiums, Hotels Warned To Watch For Terrorists

File - Najibullah Zazi arrives at the offices of the FBI in Denver for questioning on in this Sept. 17, 2009 file photo. FBI agents late Saturday Sept. 19, 2009 arrested Najibullah Zazi, and his father, Muhammad Zazi during a raid Zazi's home in the Denver suburb of Aurora according to a spokeswoman for Najibullah Zazi's defense team. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

WASHINGTON
— Counterterrorism officials have issued security bulletins to police around the nation about terrorists' desire to attack stadiums, entertainment complexes and hotels – the latest in a flurry of such internal warnings as investigators chase a possible bomb plot in Denver and New York.

In the two bulletins – sent to police departments Monday and obtained by The Associated Press – officials said they know of no specific plots against such sites, but urged law enforcement and private companies to be vigilant. These two bulletins followed on the heels of a similar warning about the vulnerabilities of mass transit systems.

The bulletin on stadiums notes that an al-Qaida training manual specifically lists "blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality, and sin... and attacking vital economic centers" as desired targets of the global terror network.

A joint statement from DHS and FBI said while the agencies "have no information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack, we believe it is prudent to raise the security awareness of our local law enforcement partners regarding the targets and tactics of previous terrorist activity."

Officials noted the law enforcement bulletins are not intended for the public. Bulletins – particularly about hotels as possible targets – are common, and often don't make news. However, a half-dozen alerts issued in the last week have received increased attention amid the ongoing investigations in New York and Denver. The first of these, about hydrogen peroxide-based explosives, specifically referred to the investigation in New York.

Separately, law enforcement officials said a Colorado man may have been planning with others to detonate backpack bombs on New York City trains in a terrorism plot similar to past attacks on London's and Madrid's mass-transit systems.

The investigation and the earlier warning about mass transit system have already prompted officials around the nation to step up patrols.

Two law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the investigation told The Associated Press late Monday that more than a half-dozen individuals were being scrutinized in the alleged plot.

In a statement, the FBI says that "several individuals in the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere" are being investigated.

Investigators say Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghanistan-born immigrant who is a shuttle van driver at the Denver airport, played a direct role in the terror plot that unraveled after an overnight 1,600-mile trip from Denver to New York City around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. He made his first court appearance Monday and remains behind bars.

Zazi and two other defendants have not been charged with any terrorism counts, only the relatively minor offense of lying to the government. But the case could grow to include more serious charges as the investigation proceeds.

Backpacks and cell phones were seized last week from apartments in Queens, where Zazi visited.

Zazi has publicly denied being involved in a terror plot, and defense lawyer Arthur Folsom dismissed as "rumor" any notion that his client played a crucial role.

Publicly, law enforcement officials have repeatedly said they are unaware of a specific time or target for any attacks. Privately, officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case said investigators have worried most about the possible use of backpack bombs on New York City trains, similar to attacks carried out in London in 2005 and Madrid in 2004.

Backpack bombs ripped apart four commuter trains and killed 191 people in Madrid on March 11, 2004. On July 7 the next year, bombing attacks in London killed 52 subway and bus commuters.

In a bulletin issued Friday, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warned that improvised explosive devices are the most common tactic to blow up railroads and other mass transit systems overseas. And they noted incidents in which bombs were made with peroxide.

In that bulletin, obtained by The AP, officials recommended that transit systems conduct random sweeps at terminals and stations and that law enforcement make random patrols and board some trains and buses.

Investigators feared Zazi may have been involved in a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide-based explosives, according to two law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

The FBI said they found notes on bomb-making instructions that appear to match Zazi's handwriting, and discovered his fingerprints on materials – batteries and a scale – that could be used to make explosives. He also made a trip to Pakistan last year in which he received al-Qaida explosives and weapons training, the government said.

Zazi, a legal resident of the U.S. who immigrated in 1999, told the FBI that he must have unintentionally downloaded the notes on bomb-making as part of a religious book and that he deleted the book "after realizing that its contents discussed jihad."

A strange sequence of events began to unfold nearly two weeks ago when Zazi – already under surveillance by federal agents – rented a car in Colorado and made the 1,600-mile trek across the heartland to New York. He told reporters that he went to New York to resolve an issue with a coffee cart he owned.

He went to his friend's place in Queens. Once there, his car was towed and authorities confiscated his computer. He was told by an NYPD informant that detectives were asking about him, and decided to cut the trip short and fly back to Colorado, authorities said.

Their surveillance blown and their main suspect flying back to Colorado, officials speeded up the investigation and launched raids on several Queens apartments in a search for explosives, but found none.

Zazi and his 53-year-old father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, were arrested Saturday in Denver. Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, was arrested in New York, where he is an imam at a mosque in Queens. The three are accused of making false statements to the government. If convicted, they face eight years in prison.
READ MORE - Stadiums, Hotels Warned To Watch For Terrorists

Afghanistan Pullback: U.S. May Focus On Drone Attacks On Terrorists

A sniffer dog of Afghanistan police sniffs for explosives in a vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 21, 2009. Gen. Stanley McChrystal , the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan has reported to President Barack Obama that without more troops the U.S. risks failure in a war it's been waging since Sept. 2001.(AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

WASHINGTON
— President Barack Obama's strategy against al-Qaida may shift away from more troops in Afghanistan and toward more drone strikes against terrorist targets.

As the war worsens in Afghanistan, Obama could steer away from the comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy he laid out this spring and toward a narrower focus on counterterror operations.

Two senior administration officials said Monday that the renewed fight against al-Qaida could lead to more missile attacks on Pakistan terrorist havens by unmanned U.S. spy planes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.

The armed drones could contain al-Qaida in a smaller, if more remote, area and keep its leaders from retreating back into Afghanistan, the officials said.

The prospect of a White House alternative to a deepening involvement in Afghanistan comes as administration officials debate whether to send more troops – as urged in a blunt assessment of the deteriorating conflict by the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The president thus far has not endorsed the McChrystal approach, saying in television interviews over the weekend that he needs to be convinced that sending more troops would make Americans safer from al-Qaida.

Tellingly, Obama reiterated in those interviews that his core goal is to destroy al-Qaida, which is not present in significant numbers in Afghanistan. He did not focus on saving Afghanistan.

"I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Top aides to Obama said he still has questions and wants more time to decide.

Forces on the ground in Afghanistan have been forging ahead for weeks with the counterinsurgency strategy laid out by the president in March, including working to pull back troops from remote and sparsely populated Taliban havens and to move them to populated areas where they can fulfill the counterinsurgency tact of protecting the people. They have not pulled back from many places yet.

And McChrystal had completed a separate report in which he could request in the range of some 40,000 additional troops to carry out that strategy, Pentagon officials said. But it has been decided that he will not submit it until a strategy is finalized, defense officials said.

Officials said the administration aims to push ahead with the ground mission in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, still leaving the door open for sending more U.S. troops. But Obama's top advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden, have indicated they are reluctant to send many more troops – if any at all – in the immediate future.

The proposed shift would bolster U.S. action on Obama's long-stated goal of dismantling terrorist havens, but it could also complicate American relations with Pakistan, long wary of the growing use of aerial drones to target militants along the porous border with Afghanistan.

Most U.S. military officials have preferred a classic counterinsurgency mission to keep al-Qaida out of Afghanistan by defeating the Taliban and securing the local population.

However, one senior White House official said it's not clear that the Taliban would welcome al-Qaida back into Afghanistan. The official noted that it was only after the 9/11 attacks that the United States invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban in pursuit of al-Qaida.

Pakistan will not allow the United States to deploy a large-scale military troop buildup on its soil. However, its military and intelligence services are believed to have assisted the U.S. with airstrikes, even while the government has publicly condemned them.

Wider use of missile strikes and less reliance on ground troops would mark Obama's second shift in strategy and tactics since taking office last January.

But stepping up attacks on the remnants of al-Qaida also would dovetail with Obama's presidential campaign promise of directly going after the terrorist network that spawned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Over the past few weeks, White House and Pentagon officials have debated the best way to defeat al-Qaida – and whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to battle the extremist Taliban elements that hosted Osama bin Laden and his operatives in the 1990s and have continued to aid the terrorist group.

McChrystal has argued that without more troops the United States could lose the war against the Taliban and allied insurgents.

White House officials have made clear that Pakistan, where the U.S. cannot send troops, should be the top concern since that is where top al-Qaida leaders, including bin Laden himself, are believed to be hiding. Very few al-Qaida extremists are believed to still be in Afghanistan, according to military and White House officials.
READ MORE - Afghanistan Pullback: U.S. May Focus On Drone Attacks On Terrorists

U.S. To Shelve Bush's Nuclear-Missile Shield

President Barack Obama speaks about the U.S. missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, that had deeply angered Russia, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday shelved a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile defense shield that has been a major irritant in relations with Russia. He said a redesigned defensive system would be cheaper and more effective against the threat from Iranian missiles.

"Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies," Obama said in an announcement from the White House.

Anticipating criticism from the right that he was weakening America's security, Obama said repeatedly that this decision would provide more – not less – protection.

"It is more comprehensive than the previous program, it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost effective, and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland," he said.

With the announcement, Washington scrapped what had become a politically troublesome plan, and one the Pentagon says was ill-suited to the true threat from Iran. In its place would be a system the Pentagon contends will accomplish the original goal and more.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran's changing capabilities drove the decision, but he acknowledged that the replacement system is likely to allay some of Russia's concerns.

Obama also made a pointed reference to Russia and its heated objections to the shield. "Its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded," Obama said.

The missile defense system planned under the Bush administration was to have been built in the Czech Republic and Poland. Obama phoned Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer Wednesday night and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk Thursday morning to alert them of his decision.

It was immediately unclear whether any part of the new system would still be hosted by those nations, which agreed to host the Bush-planned shield at considerable cost in public opinion and their relations with Russia. Obama said the U.S. will continue to work cooperatively with what he called "our close friends and allies."

Criticism came immediately from Republicans.

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said he would "work to overturn this wrong-headed policy."

"Scrapping our missile defense effort in Europe has severe consequences for our diplomatic relations and weakens our national security," Cantor said in a statement. "Our allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, deserve better and our people deserve smarter and safer."

The new plan would rely sea and land-based sensors and interceptor missiles intended as a bulwark against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

The Bush missile shield plan, which never moved beyond the blueprint stage, would have been a deterrent for Iranian long-range missiles, but Russians worried that the system would be aimed at them.

Gates said that the initial stage of Obama's alternate plan would deploy Aegis ships armed with interceptors, giving the military the ability to move the system around.

Another key to the near-term network would be new, more mobile radar used to detect and track short- and medium-range missiles if they were launched from Iran.

In a press conference that followed Obama's remarks, Gates said that a second phase of the plan would add a modified version of a land-based missile that is still being developed. Gates said the U.S. told the Czech Republic and Poland that they would be part of that stage of the system, which won't take place until 2015.

That second stage could result in missiles being placed on land in Eastern Europe, Gates said.

Gates said the decision to abandon the Bush administration's plans came about because of a change in the U.S. perception of the threat posed by Iran. U.S. intelligence decided short- and medium-range missiles from Iran now pose a greater near-term threat than the intercontinental ballistic missiles the Bush plan addressed, he said.

Still, the decision can be read at least in part as an effort to placate Russia at a time when its support against Iran's suspected nuclear program has not been forthcoming and is sorely needed.

Obama faced the dilemma of either setting back the gradual progress toward repairing relations with Russia or disappointing the Czech Republic and Poland, two key NATO allies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is preparing to visit the United States next week for the U.N. General Assembly and the Group of 20 nations economic summit.

The plan for a European shield was a darling of the Bush administration, which reached deals to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic – eastern European nations at Russia's doorstep and once under Soviet sway. Moscow argued vehemently that the system would undermine the nuclear deterrent of its vast arsenal.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the U.S. decision "a positive step."

And Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said, "It reflects understanding that any security measure can't be built entirely on the basis of one nation."

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl called the decision "dangerous and shortsighted."

"The message the administration sends today is clear: The United States will not stand behind its friends and views 're-setting' relations with Russia more important," said the Arizona senator. "This is wrong!"

Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in last year's presidential election, called the decision a disappointment that "has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe."


Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/17/us-to-shelve-bushs-nuclea_n_289536.html
READ MORE - U.S. To Shelve Bush's Nuclear-Missile Shield

'I took some flesh home and called it my son': Elders had to hand out random remains to relatives in horrific aftermath of Afghan airstrike that incinerated over 100

'I took some flesh home and called it my son.' The Guardian interviews 11 villagers

Fazel Muhamad
Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
At first light last Friday, in the Chardarah district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, the villagers gathered around the twisted wreckage of two fuel tankers that had been hit by a Nato airstrike. They picked their way through a heap of almost a hundred charred bodies and mangled limbs which were mixed with ash, mud and the melted plastic of jerry cans, looking for their brothers, sons and cousins. They called out their names but received no answers. By this time, everyone was dead.
What followed is one of the more macabre scenes of this or any war. The grief-stricken relatives began to argue and fight over the remains of the men and boys who a few hours earlier had greedily sought the tanker's fuel. Poor people in one of the world's poorest countries, they had been trying to hoard as much as they could for the coming winter.
"We didn't recognise any of the dead when we arrived," said Omar Khan, the turbaned village chief of Eissa Khail. "It was like a chemical bomb had gone off, everything was burned. The bodies were like this," he brought his two hands together, his fingers curling like claws. "There were like burned tree logs, like charcoal.
"The villagers were fighting over the corpses. People were saying this is my brother, this is my cousin, and no one could identify anyone."
So the elders stepped in. They collected all the bodies they could and asked the people to tell them how many relatives each family had lost.
A queue formed. One by one the bereaved gave the names of missing brothers, cousins, sons and nephews, and each in turn received their quota of corpses. It didn't matter who was who, everyone was mangled beyond recognition anyway. All that mattered was that they had a body to bury and perform prayers upon.
"A man comes and says, 'I lost my brother and cousin', so we gave him two bodies," said Omar Khan. "Another says I lost five relatives, so we gave him five bodies to take home and bury. When we had run out of bodies we started giving them limbs, legs, arms, torsos." In the end only five families went away without anything. "Their sons are still missing."
Omar Khan's small eyes narrowed and his mouth formed a disgusted circle. "The smell was so bad. For three days I smelled of burned meat and fuel."
Omar Khan was one of 11 villagers the Guardian interviewed about the airstrike. We arrived in the region early this week with the intention of visiting the site of the attack, but the kidnapping of a New York Times journalist and the firefight that preceded his rescue, leaving four people dead, meant the journey there was too difficult. Instead the villagers came into the city to tell us their stories.
We sat around a table in the basement of a hotel, and one by one their accounts of the airstrike – which killed 70-100 people, making it one of the most devastating of the war – spilled out. The villagers said the Taliban had hijacked the fuel tankers at 7pm on Thursday evening and driven them off the main road to Kabul, through Ali Abad district, into their stronghold of Chardarah, to the south-west of Kunduz.
To reach Chardarah they had to ford a shallow river to avoid a bridge garrisoned by the Afghan army. But when they drove the trucks into the water they became stuck, so the Taliban summoned the people in the nearby villages to help.
Jamaludin, a 45-year-old farmer, had been praying in the mosque when he heard the sound of a tractor. "I went home and found that three of my brothers and my nephew had left with my tractor," he said. "I called my brother to ask him where they had gone. He said the Taliban had asked him to bring the tractor and help them pull a tanker." Jamaluddin was alarmed. "I asked him what tanker? It wasn't our business, let the Taliban bring their own tractors. I called him back an hour later. He said they couldn't get the trucks out and the Taiban wouldn't let him leave, so I went back to sleep."
Realising the tankers were stuck, the Taliban decided to siphon off the fuel and asked people to come and help themselves to the ghanima, the spoils of war. There would be free fuel for everyone.
Assadullah, a thin 19-year-old with a wisp of black hair falling on his forehead, got a call from a friend who said the Taliban were distributing free fuel.
"I took two fuel cans with me, I called my brother and a friend and we went. There was a full moon and we could see very clearly. There were a lot of people already there. They were pushing and shoving, trying to reach the tap to fill their jerry cans. We are poor people, and we all wanted to get some fuel for the winter.
"I filled my cans and moved away while my brother was pushing to fill his. I walked for a hundred, maybe two hundred metres."
It was about 1am on Friday that the aircraft attacked and incinerated the stolen fuel tankers. "There was a big light in the sky and then an explosion," Assadullah said. "I fell on my face. When I came to, there was thick smoke and I couldn't see anything. I called, I shouted for my brother but he didn't answer. I couldn't see him. There was fire everywhere and silence and bodies were burning."
He pulled up his long shirt to show me four small shrapnel bruises and two burns on his neck.
Jamaludin woke up at about 1am to start making food. It was Ramadan, and he had to prepare Sehur, the last meal before sunrise. "I called my brother again and told him I could hear lots of aeroplanes in the sky, why wasn't he back? He said he was bringing some fuel and would be home soon. I hung up and went into the courtyard, and then there was a big fire, like a big lamp in the middle of the sky. I called my brother again and his phone was off. I left home and ran towards the river. The smell of smoke was coming from there.
"When I got there I couldn't see my brother.I shouted for him. I saw some people carrying injured on their shoulders, then I went back home to pray and wait for the light."
Jan Mohammad, an old man with a white beard and green eyes, said angrily: "I ran, I ran to find my son because nobody would give me a lift. I couldn't find him."
He dropped his head on his palm that was resting on the table, and started banging his head against his white mottled hand. When he raised his head his eyes were red and tears were rolling down his cheek: "I couldn't find my son, so I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son. I told my wife we had him, but I didn't let his children or anyone see. We buried the flesh as it if was my son."
He broke off, then shouted at the young Assadullah, who had knocked at the old man's house and told his son to come with them there was free fuel for everyone, "You destroyed my home", Assadu-llah turned his head and looked at the wall. "You destroyed my home," he shouted again. Jan Mohammad dropped his head again on his palm and rolled it left and right, his big gray turban moving like a huge pendulum, "Taouba [forgiveness]," he hissed. "People lost their fathers and sons for a little bit of fuel. Forgiveness."
Omar Khan, the village chief, was crying now and looking at the ceiling.
Fazel Muhamad a 48-year-old farmer with seven deep lines creasing his forehead and a white prayers cap, threw two colour passport pictures in front of me, one of a thickly bearded man and the other a young boy. "My cousin and his son," he said. "Around 10pm, my cousin told me the Taliban were distributing fuel to the people and he was going to get some for the winter. I asked him to stay and not go, there were planes and it was dangerous at night, but he went anyway.
"At one or two in the morning we heard a big explosion and I saw fire coming form the sky. My cousin's wife came running, she said go look for your cousin, but I waited until I had finished my dawn prayers, no one could eat anything.
"I arrived there and I saw dead bodies, some were in the middle of the river, I walked around looking for him and his son but I couldn't find him. I went back home and his wife asked me did you see him, is he dead, where is he? I said I couldn't find him. She was wailing and crying.
"I went again looking for him. There was light now, I picked through the bodies, the Arbabs [village elders] were distributing the flesh, but I didn't go there. I looked through the ground and I could only see his two feet and his son's feet. I recognised them because he and his son had henna on their toes."
Islamu-ldin, a 20-year-old from Issa khail village with tufts of hair sprouting from his cheek, took his turn to speak. He said he ran for three hours to get to the riverbed to look for his brother.
"Our village is far from the river, I searched a lot through the dead, and I found my brother. I recognized him from his clothes. But we only found his upper body, maybe someone took the legs, maybe it just burned to ashes."
Omar Khan was weeping openly now. A few other men resisted, but their eyes were as red as those of Jan Muhamad, who was babbling and shouting at the young Assadullah again and again.
Saleh Muhamad, a 25-year-old man with thick beard, wanted to get some fuel but no one would give him a lift. His brother and brother-in-law went and he went to sleep, then he heard the explosion. "I waited till darkness ended, then went there. I didn't find anyone I knew, so I waited for the elders. They gave me two bodies, they looked like my relatives and I came back with them."
Another village elder said that at least a dozen of the dead were from the Taliban. Although most of them had already left when the explosion happened, the rest stayed trying to keep some order while the villagers shoved and pushed.
"At midnight my brother and nephew went to get fuel. I also wanted to go but I didn't have a car," said Saleh Muhamad.
"At one in the morning I went to bed. When I heard the explosion I called my brother but his phone was off … when I arrived at 3am there were dead everywhereI was searching for my brother and nephew but I couldn't find anyone.
"I had a torch with me and I could see well, but I still couldn't recognise anyone." His eyes looked straight through me as he said: "I found one body and took it home and we buried it. It was a full body, with arms and legs. We buried it well."
READ MORE - 'I took some flesh home and called it my son': Elders had to hand out random remains to relatives in horrific aftermath of Afghan airstrike that incinerated over 100

Al-Qaeda Somalia suspect 'killed'

Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan

US forces are "likely" to have killed a top al-Qaeda suspect during a military raid in Somalia, US officials say.
They flew helicopters into Somalia and attacked a car they say was carrying Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.
US agents have been hunting Nabhan for years over attacks on a hotel and an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002.
It is believed he fled to Somalia after the attacks and was working with the al-Shabab group, which the Americans see as al-Qaeda's proxy in Somalia.
The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan, in the capital Mogadishu, says the raid has raised concern among Somalis.
They fear such attacks by foreign forces may help to fuel the extremism they are designed to combat, our correspondent says.
The US last launched a major strike in Somalia in May 2008, killing al-Shabab's military leader and at least 10 others.
The raid led to protests by villagers and critics say it had little effect on al-Shabab's capabilities.
French connection?
Analysts say Nabhan is one of the most senior leaders of al-Qaeda's East Africa cell.
ANALYSIS
Frank Gardener
Frank Gardner, BBC News
This latest US raid into Somalia, carried out by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), would have had several aims.
Firstly, it would be about "settling scores" - killing or capturing a man the FBI believes was instrumental in al-Qaeda's attacks in East Africa.
A second aim would be to show al-Qaeda's senior operatives that there is no safe hiding place, even in a country whose militants effectively drove out US forces 15 years ago.
Thirdly, the raid's planners would be hoping to throw both al-Qaeda and al-Shabab off-balance, disrupting their plans. Although Nabhan's loss will be felt, reports of his death at US hands are almost certain to trigger revenge attacks in the region.
US-based Somalia expert Andre le Sage told the BBC's Network Africa programme that his death, if confirmed, would severely hamper the network's ability to operate in the region.
But he said new leaders would probably emerge to take Nabhan's place.
Various media outlets have carried quotes from unnamed US officials confirming that the raid, on Monday afternoon, was carried out by US special forces targeting Nabhan.
BBC Defence correspondent Nick Childs says the raid seems to be something of a departure from recent US tactics in Somalia, which have tended to use long-range missile strikes and aircraft to try to get at militant suspects.
A Somali minister told the BBC he also believed Nabhan had been killed.
Earlier reports had quoted witnesses as saying the troops wore uniforms with French insignia and had flown from a ship bearing a French flag.
But the French military strongly denied their forces were involved.
'Helicopter strike'
Somali sources told the BBC that six helicopters were involved in the attack on two vehicles in the southern coastal town of Barawe, which is controlled by al-Shabab.
US ACTION IN SOMALIA
Somalia map
1992-1994 Sends troops in under UN humanitarian force, gets drawn into clan conflict
3-4 October 1993 Fights brutal battle in Mogadishu - 18 US troops and hundreds of Somalis killed, US helicopters shot down
25 March 1994 Pulls all troops out of Mogadishu
2006-2009 Reportedly supports invading Ethiopian troops fighting Islamists
January 2007 Carries out air strikes targeting al-Qaeda suspects
1 May 2008 Air strike kills al-Shabab military commander Aden Hashi Ayro
June 2009 US confirms it has sent weapons to Somali government
A US official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying special forces had flown by helicopter from a US Navy ship and fired on a vehicle that they believed was carrying Nabhan.
He added that the body believed to be Nabhan's had been taken into custody.
There have also been reports that another body was taken away by the US attackers.
Nabhan is suspected of bombing an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, and trying to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002.
The authorities in Kenya also regard him as a suspect in two attacks on US embassies in the region in 1998.
The US and France both have troops stationed in neighbouring Djibouti.
During 2007 and 2008 the US carried out air strikes against Somali Islamist groups it accused of links to al-Qaeda.
Monday's assault comes several weeks after a French security adviser held by militants in Mogadishu managed to get free. A colleague seized at the same time remains in captivity.
Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991.
Rival Islamist factions are battling forces loyal to the weak UN-backed government, which controls only small parts of the capital Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab are said to have links to al-Qaeda, and to have been reinforced with foreign fighters.
READ MORE - Al-Qaeda Somalia suspect 'killed'

Foreign troops launch Somali raid

Somalia map
Foreign soldiers have staged an attack on militants in Somalia, killing at least two people in a helicopter raid.
The troops, who according to some reports had uniforms with French insignia, attacked a vehicle carrying Islamists from the al-Shabab group.
Witnesses said the soldiers took away two men, and there were two bodies left in the road after the attack in the southern coastal town of Barawe.
A French military spokesman denied its forces were involved.
"There was no French operation," said admiral Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for the armed forces' general staff.
He said the only French forces in the area were tackling pirates off the coast and did not intervene on land.
'Burning vehicle'
Unconfirmed reports claim that top al-Qaeda suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was killed in the attack.
Reuters and Spanish news agency Efe reported witnesses and al-Shabab sources as saying Kenyan-born Nabhan - who has been on the FBI's most-wanted list for years - was killed.
FOREIGN FORCES IN SOMALIA
French commandos with a pirate suspect, file image
December 2006 Ethiopia invades, helps topple militant Islamist group
2007, 2008 US airstrikes against militants it claims are linked to al-Qaeda
April 2008 French storm a yacht and capture pirates after ransom is paid
October 2008 Nato launches anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia
January 2009 Ethiopia withdraws its troops
April 2009 Two pirates killed and four hostages freed by French commandos
He is suspected of bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and attempting to shoot down an airliner in 2002, and two attacks on US embassies in the region in 1998.
A village elder told the AFP news agency that four foreign helicopters had been involved in the Barawe raid.
"We heard the explosion and saw two helicopters flying over us," said Mohamed Ali Aden, a bus driver who drove past the burnt-out car minutes after the attack.
"There was only a burning vehicle and two dead bodies lying beside."
Neither Somali government nor Islamist forces have helicopters.
French commandos have launched raids in the past to rescue their citizens from pirates or militants. There is a French military base in neighbouring Djibouti.
The assault comes several weeks after a French security adviser held by militants in Mogadishu managed to get free. A colleague seized at the same time remains in captivity.
The US has also carried out air strikes against Somali Islamist groups it accused of links to al-Qaeda in recent years. It too has troops stationed in Djibouti.
Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991.
Rival Islamist factions are battling forces loyal to the weak UN-backed government, which controls only small parts of the capital Mogadishu.
READ MORE - Foreign troops launch Somali raid

Outplayed by Iran

Barry Rubin

Obama has stepped into trap laid by Ahmadinejad

US President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to understand how quickly and easily his diplomatic ‘generosity’ and readiness to make concessions becomes a trap and also how his self-professed reluctance to do anything tough turns into a terrible vulnerability. Now he faces being outmanoeuvred by Iran.

The Tehran regime has taken three of Mr Obama’s policies — engagement with enemies, global nuclear disarmament, and partnership over leadership — and turned them against the US Government. The score today is Iran: 3, United States: 0. And all three of Iran’s scores are actually America’s ‘self goals’.

First, Mr Obama has talked a great deal about engaging Iran, claiming this would show the world America’s good intentions and thus clear the way for tougher sanctions. By the time sanctions are imposed, if they are, the Obama Administration will have wasted all of 2009 on this process.

But guess what? The Iranians can play that game also. At the last minute, Iran has come up with an offer, obviously just a stalling tactic. Some in the American media have fallen for the trick, with the Los Angeles Times saying that it doesn’t matter if the offer is a trick; the US has to play along!

Second, the Iranian regime has said that it won’t talk about its own nuclear programme. Instead, it has proposed that all nuclear weapons in the world be eliminated.

Now where did they get this idea? Why, from Mr Obama of course! He proposed this in his Cairo speech (I had then warned that this would happen) and he is about to chair a UN session on this very point. In fact, at Mr Obama’s request, the session has been changed from a debate focussing on immediate nuclear weapons’ threats (Iran and North Korea) to a general one about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The Iranians will have a field day.

And that’s not all! For this credibility through engagement thing works both ways. When Mr Obama says the US must show the world that it has tried to engage Iran, he’s being not just Eurocentric but Western Eurocentric. There’s a flip side. Now Iran is offering to talk and the US is refusing. This will make the US look hypocritical in the Muslim-majority world and other places outside of Western Europe.

Third, the Russians have accepted it. Jumping at the chance for an excuse not to impose sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there won’t be any new sanctions because he thinks the Iranian proposals are just dandy and more time should be spent (wasted) on more meetings.

The Russians have been talking this way for months. Yet, while the danger was clear, the Obama Administration ignored it, pretending all was well with Moscow. There was never any chance of Russia, or China for that matter, supporting the US strategy. Isn’t Mr Obama going to look like a fool when his grand strategy on Iran is shown to be hollow?

In the end, though, the Obama Administration has decided to step into the trap and negotiate with Iran. Why? Here’s the key statement:

“Officials said their expectations were extremely low. They also said their willingness to proceed was based in part on a recognition that some form of talks had to take place before the US could make a case for imposing far stronger sanctions on Iran.”

But why do there have to be some kind of talks? Who is going to care? How long are these going to take, no doubt well into 2010. The Iranian regime will use all sorts of other issues as distractions.

the writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.
READ MORE - Outplayed by Iran

Al-Qaeda allies build huge Pakistan base

A banned terrorist group which counts British-born al-Qaeda suspect Rashid Rauf as a member is setting up a huge new base in Pakistan's most heavily populated province.
 
Jaish-e-Mohammad ("army of Mohammad"), which is linked to a series of atrocities including an attack on the Indian parliament and the beheading of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, has walled off a 4.5 acre compound just outside the town of Bahawalpur.
Pakistani authorities have turned a blind eye to the new base, in the far south of Punjab province, even though it is believed to have been built to serve as a radical madrassah - Islamic school - or some kind of training camp.
British security sources believe Rauf helped organise the July 7 and 21 attacks in 2005. He was born in England to Pakistani parents and brought up in Birmingham where his father was a baker. It was in Bahawalpur that Rauf was arrested in 2006, before his mysterious and still unexplained escape from custody.
While world attention has been focused on the menace of the Taliban in the north west of Pakistan, the bases of Jaish and a string of other similar jihadist groups in southern Punjab have gone largely unnoticed.
Yet Punjabi extremist groups send thousands of recruits to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan.
Bahawalpur is a backwater, a dusty, dirt-poor town which is swelteringly hot in summer. Its isolation allows it to function quietly as a centre for ideological indoctrination and terrorist planning, a jihadist oasis surrounded by parched fields. Once mentally prepared, promising students are dispatched to camps for training jihadists in warfare, in the north west of the country.
Jaish members were behind a spectacular attempt to assassinate then-president Pervez Musharraf in 2004. They were also involved in training and commanding the Taliban guerrillas who overran Pakistan's Swat valley.
The terrorist group was reputedly formed with help from Pakistan's ISI military spy agency as a weapon to be used against their arch-enemy India, and the two organisations are understood to remain close.
Aside from Rauf, two other two other notorious British-Pakistani militants had connections with Jaish: Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 2005 bombers of the London transport system; and Omar Sheikh, who was found guilty in Pakistan of the murder of the American journalist, Daniel Pearl. It emerged last week that British intelligence believes that Rauf is still alive, despite claims that he died in a US missile attack in Pakistan's tribal area in 2008.
Bahawalpur and the surrounding districts also serve as a safe resting place for jihadists battling in Afghanistan, including, it is believed, for British-born Muslims who go to fight there. They have respite from the threat of US spy planes that patrol the tribal area in the north west, killing militants with deadly missile strikes.
In Bahawalpur alone, there may be as many as 1,000 madrassas, many of which teach a violent version of Islam to children, who are mostly too poor to go to regular school.
Jaish has its headquarters in Bahawalpur and it openly runs a imposing madrassah in the centre of town, called Usman-o-Ali, where it teaches its extremist interpretation of Islam to hundreds of children every year.
The group was banned by Pakistan back in 2002 and designated by the US as a "foreign terrorist organisation". The Sunday Telegraph was prevented from entering the madrassah, which also has a mosque that should be open to everyone.
Jaish's new site, about 5km (3 miles) out of Bahawalpur at Chowk Azam, on the main road to Karachi, is much larger, with evidence that it could contain underground bunkers or tunnels. Surrounded by a high brick and mud wall, little can be seen from the road.
However, The Sunday Telegraph discovered that it has a fully-tiled swimming pool, stabling for over a dozen horses, an ornamental fountain and even swings and a slide for children – all belying claims by the group and Pakistani officials that the facility is simply a small farm to keep cattle. There were signs of construction activity.
A man at the site, who gave his name as Abdul Jabbar, who wore a visible ammunition vest under his shirt, would not allow The Sunday Telegraph to enter, and suggested it was time for the newspaper to leave.
"We're not hiding anything. Nothing happens here. We have just kept some cattle for our milk," said Mr Jabbar, who sported the long hair that is typical for Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.
A man on a motorbike followed as The Sunday Telegraph drove away.
The new facility is known to the regional administration and, with a hefty army cantonment in Bahawalpur, the military would also be aware.
It has deeply worried some Pakistani security personnel. One described it as a "second centre of terrorism", to complement the existing Jaish madrassah in the middle of town.
The officer, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Jaish should never have been allowed to buy the land.
He said they initially acquired 4.5 acres, then they forced the adjacent landowner to sell them another 2 acres. "It's big enough for training purposes," he said.
On the inside walls, there are painted jihadist inscriptions, including a warning to "Hindus and Jews", with a picture of Delhi's historic Red Fort, suggesting they will conquer the city.
Bahawalpur was where Rashid Rauf fled in 2002, after being implicated in the murder of his uncle in the UK. His family friend Ghulam Mustafa, a radical imam, ran a madrassah, the Dar-ul-Uloom Medina.
He married Mr Mustafa's daughter, and his wife and children are still believed to live there.
No-one was willing to talk about Rauf in Bahawalpur.
Attaur Rehman, the deputy head of the Dar-ul-Uloom Medina madrassah, which is run out of an unmarked building in a back street and is closely associated with Jaish, said: "We don't say anything about this, I won't talk to you. I'm fed up with you media people."
Publicly, Pakistani officials insisted that the new compound is innocuous and even that there is no extremist threat in Bahawalpur.
Mushtaq Sukhera, the Regional Police Officer for Bahawalpur, the most senior police officer for the area, admitted that the Usman-o-Ali madrassah in the middle of Bahawalpur "belongs to "Jaish" . He said that Jaish also owned the facility out of town. "But there's nothing over there except a few cows and horses," he said.
"No militancy, no military training is being imparted to students (at Usman-o-Ali)," said Mr Sukhera. "There is no problem with militancy (in south Punjab), there's no problem with Talibanisation. It's just media hype." Others tell a different story. Somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 men from southern Punjab are currently fighting jihad in Afghanistan or Pakistan's north western tribal area, according to independent estimates, said Ayesha Siddiqa, an analyst who has studied the area.
They are often known as the "Punjabi Taliban", whereas the main Taliban forces are ethnic Pashtuns, the group that straddles north west Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"These guys [in Bahawalpur] aren't connected with a war, they don't have any ethnic affiliation with Afghanistan," said Dr Siddiqa. "These guys are purely ideologically motivated. That makes it much more difficult to crack them during investigation or to break their will to fight."
READ MORE - Al-Qaeda allies build huge Pakistan base

Iraq's New Surge: Gay Killings

As U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill testifies before Congress today, Iraqi's security is far from assured. Militias now targetting the socially marginalized could soon take their killing spree mainstream.

BY RASHA MOUMNEH

When my colleague and I sat down last April with Hamid, an Iraqi man from Baghdad, his trauma-induced stutter said as much as the words he spoke. Huddled inconspicuously in a dingy restaurant, Hamid recounted how militia members killed his partner along with three other men, two kidnapped from their Baghdad homes, two slaughtered in the streets. The next day, Hamid said, "they came for me. They came into my house and they saw my mother, and one of them said, 'Where's your faggot son?' My mother called me after they left, in tears. ... I can't go home."

As the world hails Iraq's supposed return to normality, the country's militias -- the same ones that spent years waging a sectarian civil war -- have found a new, less apparent target: men suspected of being gay. The systematic killings, which began earlier this year, reveal the cracks behind Iraq's fragile calm. Iraq's leaders may talk of security and democracy from behind barbed wire in the Green Zone, but the surge of murders against gay men is a stark sign of how far Iraqi society still has to go.
During a 10-day Human Rights Watch research trip to Iraq in April, we heard harrowing stories of torture, abductions, kidnappings, extortion, and murder. We listened to dozens of men who had faced violence at the hands of armed militias, attacked by youths with guns for violating the unwritten codes of Iraqi masculinity. A number of signs might implicate one as being not "manly" enough, from neighborhood gossip that a man is gay to looking somehow effeminate or foreign in the wrong people's eyes: wearing one's hair too long or one's jeans too tight, for example. There is no count available for the number of deaths since the killings began earlier this year, but one U.N. worker told us that the victims could number in the hundreds.
Not a single murder has been adequately investigated, and not a single murderer has been arrested. Infiltrated by militias and fearing for their reputations if they defend "immorality," government officials turn a blind eye.
Most survivors pointed to Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia as the main culprit in the attacks. The stand-down of al-Sadr's men over the past year has been pointed to as a sign of the U.S. troop surge's success. Now, however, many Iraqis speculate that the Mahdi Army is hoping to revitalize its street cred by seizing a murderous new role: as guardians of morality.
Western attention has always focused primarily on sectarian attacks in Iraq. Yet al-Sadr's militia and its counterparts in countless neighborhoods and towns have long had other targets in their cross hairs. These men claim to bear the banners of religion and morality, defending against any transgressors. They paint themselves as the caretakers of tradition, culture, and national authenticity -- which often means keeping women, as well as men, in their rigidly enforced traditional roles. Ironically, they sell their violence as a means of security: Amid the total upheaval of Iraqi society over the last eight years, many people regard any relaxing of gender roles as a threat to public order, undermining patriarchal power. And since the coalition forces failed to provide security after the invasion, such cultural conservatives have moved in to fill the role. Many aimless, unemployed advocates of rigid traditionalism have taken up the task with their guns.

Indeed, since 2003, the Mahdi Army and other militias have targeted women, murdering hundreds if not thousands for working outside the home, for wearing makeup or pants, or just for walking on the streets unveiled. More recently, as attacks on gay men have grown more pronounced, Iraq's media and its mosques have taken up the theme that Iraqi masculinity is under threat. Friday prayers warn that the "third sex" is on the loose in Baghdad cafes.  News articles bemoan the "feminization" of Iraqi men, apparent not only by homosexuality but in Western dress and habits, scandalously tight T-shirts and expensive jeans. The hatred of "feminized" men betrays a deep-seated fear of women, and anxiety over the loss of fatherly and familial control.
Assaults on marginalized people, however, never stay at the margins. The fate of the most isolated, vulnerable people is a barometer of whether the law can protect, and the state will serve, all citizens.
We've seen this pattern all too closely before. In the 1990s, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe proclaimed that lesbians and gays were "people without rights," foreshadowing a broader campaign of brutality -- against farm owners and farmworkers, dissidents and demonstrators, newspapers and trade unions. No one was left untouched. In Iraq today, the government's indifference to a similar campaign of murder -- within a stone's throw of the Green Zone -- is a grim augury for the future. Militias, emboldened by their successes, will need and find new victims. The rights and lives of all Iraqis are potentially at stake.
Today, American and Iraqi politicians' televised boasts about the surge and security sound like a cruel delusion in the homes of countless grieving families. There will be no security in Iraq until the government reins in militias and establishes the rule of law. There will be no justice until assaults against invisible victims -- including the epidemic of gender-based violence -- are investigated and punished. Otherwise, these men, whose only crime is looking different, will only be the first victims in Iraq's second surge -- of killings.
READ MORE - Iraq's New Surge: Gay Killings

Truck Bomb Kills At Least 19 In Northern Iraq

An Iraqi man sits in the ruins of a Kurdish village after a predawn suicide truck bombing in Wardek, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Mosul in northern Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009. (AP Photo)

BAGHDAD
— A suicide truck bomber hit a Kurdish village in northern Iraq before dawn Thursday, killing at least 19 people and injuring 30 others, officials said, in what appeared to be the latest in a string of attacks targeting Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups in the region.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents who remain active in Mosul and surrounding areas in Ninevah province.
A police officer and a health official in Mosul said the bomb went off around 12:30 a.m. in the village of Wardek, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the city – a region where U.S. commanders have warned that insurgents appear to be trying to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.
"The ongoing terrorist and criminal acts in Ninevah are aimed again at the Kurds, Turkomen, Shiites and Yizidis – they are ethnic cleansing operations in which hundreds of innocent people have been killed," Abdul-Muhsin al-Saadoun, a lawmaker of the Kurdistan Alliance parliamentary bloc, said at a press conference in Baghdad after the attack.
The officials in Mosul spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Local security forces fired on the driver of the truck when he refused to stop, but he was still able to detonate his bomb. A second assailant in another explosives-laden truck was shot and killed before his bomb exploded.
About 250 families live in the village of simple mud-brick houses, scores of which were turned to rubble, while others had roofs caved in and windows blown out.
Residents picked through the ruins, pulling out what possessions they could and loading them onto pickup trucks.
The villagers, Shiite Kurds from a small religious sect, blamed Sunni al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack.
"I'm certain that we were targeted by al-Qaida extremists as they consider us renegades," said one resident, 53-year-old Haso Narmo.
Narmo's family was injured when the blast brought down part of his house as they were sleeping. He said he drove relatives to a hospital for treatment.
"When I returned to the village this morning, it was like an earthquake had hit," he said.
Insurgents in northern Iraq, who have maintained a stronghold in the city of Mosul, have frequently targeted remote villages and towns that depend on small security forces for protection.
The violence that continues to plague Iraq's north and the capital has forced the government in Baghdad to acknowledge gaps in security.
In an indication of how deep the problem is, the government of the semiautonomous Kurdish region said it had arrested the head of the provincial intelligence service on Thursday, Brig. Abdul-Rahman Ali, on accusations he was directly involved in the planning of an Aug. 13 bombing near Mosul.
The double suicide bombing devastated a cafe packed with young people, killing 21 people, in Sinjar, a city dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group that is concentrated near the Syrian border.
He was arrested after four other people being held in connection with the bombing said he had ordered the attack, the government intelligence service said.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have identified the split between Iraq's majority Arabs and the Kurdish minority as a greater long-term threat to Iraq's stability than the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
At the heart of the dispute is the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as well as villages in Ninevah province like Wardek that the Kurds want to incorporate into their semiautonomous area despite opposition from Arabs and the minority Turkomen ethnic group.
In other violence, three successive bombs exploded at a popular market in the city of Mahmoudiya, killing four people and wounding 30, an Iraqi military officer in the area said. Mahmoudiya is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad. The officer did not want to be identified because he is not allowed to release information publicly.
The violence that has continued in the Mosul area and in and around Iraq's capital is a central issue in the campaign for national elections in January.
The head of Iraq's electoral commission warned Thursday that parliament needs to resolve differences over a new draft election law and pass it within two weeks if the vote is to go ahead as planned on Jan. 16.
Among other things, the law would determine how seats will be allocated and whether voters can select individual candidates or only an entire party list.
READ MORE - Truck Bomb Kills At Least 19 In Northern Iraq

Pakistani attack threatens NATO route

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A Pakistani offensive against an Islamic group near the strategic Khyber Pass could backfire with dire consequences for a key U.S. supply route to Afghanistan, analysts warn.

Last week, the paramilitary Frontier Corps initiated a major military operation against Lashkar-e-Islami (LI) in the Khyber tribal district. The Pakistani government says more than 100 militants have died in the past week.
According to retired Capt. Tariq Hayat, administrator of the Khyber agency, the offensive is aimed at eliminating a variety of militants and criminals.
"The offensive is not against any specific organization and would continue till it achieves its task," he said.
While LI has been accused of numerous attacks and is similar to the Taliban and al Qaeda in its intolerance of other faiths and more liberal types of Islam, the organization so far has not targeted NATO supplies passing through the Khyber tribal district.
Speaking on his FM radio station, Mangal Bagh, leader of LI, called the Pakistani offensive "illegal" and warned that if it continued, he would "allow" the Taliban into the Khyber tribal agency and Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
According to Pakistani media, Mangal is No. 6 on the country's list of the 10 most-wanted terrorists. Early this year, his men attacked unarmed villagers in Sheikhan, near Peshawar, killing dozens, according to the News, a Pakistani newspaper.
For a time, his organization was allied with another militant leader, Haji Namdar, who had turned against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Namdar subsequently was killed by a Taliban suicide attack.
If Mangal carries out his threat to welcome the Taliban and al Qaeda into the Khyber agency, that would be a major blow to Pakistan and the United States, said Imran Wazir, a specialist on the tribal areas.
He said the government offensive might persuade Mangal to merge his organization into the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the major Taliban alliance in Pakistan. That would "strengthen the latter at a time when it has come under repeated attacks from U.S. drones and needs critical support," Mr. Wazir said. A U.S. drone attack killed TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud last month.
A Taliban resurgence in the Khyber agency also would threaten Peshawar and could pose a threat to the national capital, Islamabad, about 100 miles from Peshawar. Several airlines from Arab Gulf countries have suspended flights to Peshawar out of concern that the fighting will spread.
Analysts expressed surprise at the offensive against LI at a time when the new Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, has expressed his desire to bring the Khyber agency under his control.
"The timing of operation against LI is not at all appropriate," said Shaukat Khan, a terrorism researcher at University of Peshawar. "The situation in the Pakistani tribal areas is such that if a militant-criminal organization is in control of a particular area and the government has taken action against it, the outright terrorist organizations such as the TTP replaced it, creating more trouble."
In the past, the TTP has absorbed low-profile militant and clerical organizations following government attacks. In South Waziristan, for example, the TTP expanded its influence after security forces killed local leaders Nek Mohmmad Wazir in 2005 and Abdullah Mehsud in 2007.
While the security forces have launched the offensive in Khyber, they have yet to mount a promised full-scale operation against the Taliban and al Qaeda in their stronghold of South Waziristan.
An Interior Ministry spokesman in Islamabad said a ground offensive in Waziristan has been put on hold.
Pakistan's senior military commander, Lt. Gen Nadeem Ahmed, told reporters last month that the Pakistani army was trying to create the "right" conditions for a full-blown offensive in South Waziristan by imposing a tight blockade on entry and exit points and pounding Taliban targets from the air.
READ MORE - Pakistani attack threatens NATO route

Don't Worry About Iran, Israel a Much Bigger Nuclear Threat!

By Ian Brockwell


You would think with all the hysteria about Iran's "nuclear program" that they have already developed a few hundred bombs and these will be heading our way any day now.

According to Washington's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a recent report shows that "Iran is now either very near or already has enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon". In simple English that means "maybe" they can produce ONE bomb soon, but we don't really know for sure.

And what if Iran does actually produce ONE nuclear bomb? Will they use it? How far can they send it? And what are the chances of it getting shot down long before it gets anywhere near a target?

But what if Israel were to let loose 200 nuclear warheads, would the rest of the world be able to stop all of those?

Dont worry about Iran

Unlike Iran, Israel already has nuclear weapons (at least 200 of them), and in the words of Israeli Professor Martin Van Crevel (some years ago), Israel has the capability of hitting most European capitals with nuclear weapons. "We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets of our air force" Crevel has also been quoted as saying "We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that this will happen before Israel goes under"

Whilst it is unlikely that everyone in Israel shares Crevel's extreme views, you can be reasonably sure he is not the only one who thinks like that. With this thought in mind, which country is potentially the most dangerous, at this moment in time?

A table showing which countries have nuclear weapons (and how many) has been published in an article by The Guardian (click here to view). In first place came Russia with 12987 warheads, the US came second with 9552, France third with 300, and in FOURTH PLACE Israel with 200 (more than China and the UK).

Is it just me, or do other people find this more than a little worrying? Israel has forced its presence onto world politics and business (especially in the US), does whatever it likes to the Palestinians (regardless of world opinion), penalizes people in any way it can if they should dare to criticize Israel or its people, and promotes the "Holocaust" in a way that ignores the suffering of others who have shared a similar plight throughout history.
READ MORE - Don't Worry About Iran, Israel a Much Bigger Nuclear Threat!

British commando killed in raid to free journalist in Afghanistan

A British commando has reportedly been killed in a special forces operation to free Stephen Farrell, a New York Times journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban four days ago.
Stephen Farrell, a reporter for The New York Times:  British New York Times journalist freed by Nato forces in Afghanistan
Stephen Farrell, a reporter for The New York Times Photo: AP
Mr Farrell, who holds joint British and Irish nationality, was freed when helicopter-borne commandos attacked a series of compounds in northern Afghanistan.
Mr Farrell’s Afghan interpreter, Sultan Munadi, died during the raid and the Associated Press reported that a British soldier was also killed. Unconfirmed reports suggested that women and children may also have been caught in the crossfire.
The Ministry of Defence would not confirm the soldier's death nor comment on the involvment of special forces.
Mr Farrell, 46, who works for the New York Times, was kidnapped on Saturday en route to the site of a controversial Nato airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers in Kunduz province.
It is the second time Mr Farrell has been kidnapped. In April 2004, while on assignment for The Times, he was kidnapped at gunpoint by bandits near Fallujah in Iraq.
Describing his rescue in the early hours of Wednesday to his newspaper, he said the first he knew of the raid was the approaching thud of helicopters.
He said: “We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid.
“We thought they would kill us. We thought should we go out.”
As the pair ran out, they could hear British and Afghan voices. He said: “There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”
As they reached the end of a wall, Mr Munadi went forward, shouting: “Journalist! Journalist!” but fell in a burst of gunfire. It was not clear if the shots had been fired by rescuers or militants. Mr Farrell dived in a ditch and shouted that he was a British hostage when he heard more British voices.
As he left, he said he saw the body of his colleague.
He said: “He was lying in the same position as he fell. “That’s all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He’s dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”
Mr Farrell was unharmed.
Sources said the raid had been ordered over fears for Mr Farrell’s life. The source said: “There’s been huge concern over them and it’s been a major effort to locate them and determine the right course of action.
“We have been trying to balance a negotiation strategy with danger to his life. On balance it was felt that the best means of protecting his life was this.”
Afghan and other international forces also took part in the raid. A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said: "Efforts have been underway to secure the release of two hostages in Afghanistan. We can confirm ISAF [Nato-led forces] have freed one hostage.”
The kidnapping had not been reported by journalists in Kabul because the British government and his newspaper feared publicity would further endanger the captives’ lives.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of paper, said: “We’re overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened. Our hearts go out to Sultan’s family.”
READ MORE - British commando killed in raid to free journalist in Afghanistan
 
 
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