Guantanamo Closure Delayed By Another Full Year

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's commitment to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by next month may be delayed until 2011 because it will take months for the government to buy an Illinois prison and upgrade it to hold suspected terrorists.

The drawn-out construction timetable shows the political risk of Obama's pledge, a delay that could even be extended by congressional opposition to funding the purchase and upgrades for the Thomson Correctional Center, an underused state facility about 150 miles west of Chicago.

Lawmakers in both parties have been wary of bringing detainees to the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder already has decided that self-declared 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will be tried in federal court in New York City.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised that the GOP would use delaying tactics to prevent funding the Illinois facility and added that he expected support from Democrats.

"I think there will be bipartisan opposition" to bringing detainees to Illinois, Donald Stewart said.

Congress also needs to change a law prohibiting detention in the U.S. of detainees who are not awaiting trial.

The prison in rural western Illinois may not be purchased from the state until March and will need up to 10 months of construction, said Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Shoemaker said, "The end of 2010 or the start of 2011 has always been the mark the administration talked to us about."

Obama originally said Guantanamo would close Jan. 22, 2010. While that date proved unrealistic, the president has directed administration officials to move quickly to acquire the maximum-security prison in Illinois.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt on Wednesday would not say when Guantanamo would close.

"The president remains as committed today to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo as he was when he entered office, and substantial progress has been made in recent weeks," LaBolt told The Associated Press. "The detainee population at Guantanamo is now smaller than it has been at any time since 2002.

"We will work with Congress to ensure that we secure the necessary funds to purchase and upgrade the Thomson prison – which will operate at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers – next year," he said.

The failure to meet the timetable may have cost White House counsel Greg Craig his job, since Craig, who is leaving next month, was heading the effort to close the facility.

In addition to any appropriations struggles, current federal law requires that detainees can only be housed in the United States while their trials are pending. That law would have to be changed to cover detainees who have not yet been charged and will not be sent abroad. The change would have to specify that detainees could be kept on U.S. soil for any purpose.

The Justice Department said last weekend that since 2002, more than 560 detainees have departed the military prison in Cuba and 198 remain.

"We're hitting the anticipated bumps" in the timetable for using the Illinois facility, Shoemaker said.

He added that many lawmakers would not vote to change the law or provide the funds until the administration submits a comprehensive plan on the handling of the remaining prisoners.

Federal officials tried on Tuesday to allay fears that moving terror suspects from Guantanamo to Illinois could make the state a terrorist target.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, told a state legislative panel that a new perimeter fence and other measures would make Thomson "the most secure of all federal prisons in the country."

The 12-member Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability could vote on a recommendation to sell the prison that skirts the Mississippi River, but Gov. Pat Quinn does not have to follow the recommendation.

The commission said it would not vote on the proposal before Jan. 14.
READ MORE - Guantanamo Closure Delayed By Another Full Year

First New U.S. L-3 Spy Plane Due in Afghanistan by Christmas

By Tony Capaccio
Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The Air Force as soon as Christmas Day will deliver to Afghanistan the first of 24 new Hawker Beechcraft Corp. planes modified by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. to support ground troops with video, still images and eavesdropping.
The four-man, twin-propeller plane “should arrive on or shortly after Dec. 25th,” about one month ahead of schedule, Lieutenant General David Deptula, who oversees Air Force intelligence and reconnaissance, said in an e-mail today.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the service in April 2008 to dramatically increase the number of manned and unmanned aircraft providing intelligence to ground troops. The planes will help support the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan. Six of the new spy planes already are flying missions in Iraq.
The Air Force is setting up stations at its air bases at Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Bagram, near Kabul, the capital, to receive and process data and then send it along to ground troops.
The planes also can beam images and video directly to ground troops, who will be equipped with L-3 Communications ‘‘Rovers” -- laptop devices that allow soldiers to see the same images as airborne operators. Almost 5,000 Rovers have been delivered to the U.S. military by L-3 Communications.
Hand-Held Rovers
The Air Force also will give the Army about 50 of the latest-generation Rovers -- hand-held versions that allow soldiers via satellite link both to receive images and to tell pilots where to direct the plane’s cameras, Deptula said.
The new planes provide “full-motion video and specialized signals intelligence” and all 24 should be in Afghanistan by September, Deptula said.
The aircraft will augment round-the-clock surveillance now provided by unmanned Predator drones.
The modified planes are equipped with both high-resolution and heat-sensing cameras produced by New York City-based L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc. and with radios from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. and Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corp.
The planes also are equipped with sensors that can monitor insurgents’ conversations and help pinpoint their location, said Jeffrey Richelson, author of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” a detailed compendium now in its fifth edition.
The sensors are provided by the National Security Agency, which manages U.S. eavesdropping satellites.
“It’s a lot of intelligence and dissemination capability in a small package,” Richelson said. The planes, with self- protective equipment, are “also clearly designed for a combat environment,” he said.
Congress this year approved $950 million to buy as many as 37 aircraft from Wichita, Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft Corp. The planes can fly as high as 35,000 feet and orbit for as long as five hours. They are modified at L-3 Communication’s Greenville, Texas, facility.
Hawker Beechcraft was bought in 2007 by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Onex Corp.
READ MORE - First New U.S. L-3 Spy Plane Due in Afghanistan by Christmas

The great Afghan spaghetti monster

For a good example of how difficult it will be for the US military to regain the momentum in Afghanistan, check out this graphic on the military counterinsurgency (aka COIN) strategy.
The graphic from the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff looks like a tangled ball of multicolored yarn, or perhaps it is the military's depiction of the all-powerful, all-knowing Flying Spaghetti Monster...
Whatever the case, it documents the complex relationships between Tribal leaders, soldiers, aid workers, drug dealers, militants, ethnic groups, government leaders, etc.
"For some military commanders, the slide is genius," wrote NBC's Richard Engel, "an attempt to show how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration. It represents a new approach to war fighting, looking beyond simply killing enemy fighters. It underscores what those fighting wars have long known, that everything matters."
"But for others," Engel writes, "the diagram represents a fool’s errand that the United States has taken on in the name of national security. Detractors say the slide represents an assault on logic, an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. They say the concept of occupying a foreign nation to protect security at home is expensive, time consuming, ineffective and ultimately leads to the 'spaghetti logic' of the slide. They say this slide is what happens when smart people are asked to come up with a solution to the wrong question."
Gen. Stanley McChrystal has about 18 months to show that the graphic is genius and not a fool's errand...
READ MORE - The great Afghan spaghetti monster

Iran Test-Fires Its Longest-Range Missile

TEHRAN, Iran —  Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully test fired an upgraded version of its longest-range, solid-fuel missile which it said is faster and harder to shoot down.
State television broke the news in a one-sentence report accompanied by a brief clip of the test.
Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi later spoke on television, describing the Sajjil-2 as a high-speed, surface-to-surface missile that would serve as a "strong deterrent" against any possible foreign attack.
"Given its high speed," he said, "it is impossible to destroy the missile with anti-missile systems because of its radar-evading ability."
The Sajjil-2 is a two-stage missile with a range of about 1,200 miles. That range places Israel, Iran's sworn enemy, well within reach and reaches as far away as southeastern Europe with greater precision than earlier models.
It is Iran's most advanced two-stage missile and is powered entirely by solid-fuel while the older, long-range Shahab-3 missile uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel in its most advanced form.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on Iran's latest missile test.

Iran has intensified its missile development program in recent years, a source of serious concern in Israel, the United States and its Western allies at a time when they accuse Tehran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Iran, which is under several sets of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, denies the charges and says its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating electricity.
Israel has not ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran, in turn, has threatened that such an attack would be retaliated against with strikes on Israel's own nuclear sites.
The name "Sajjil" means "baked clay," a reference to a story in the Koran, Islam's holy book, in which birds sent by God drive off an enemy army attacking the holy city of Mecca by pelting them with stones of baked clay.
Solid-fuel missiles like the Sajjil-2 are more accurate than the liquid fuel missiles of similar range currently possessed by Iran. The country has for several years had a solid-fuel missile, the Fateh, but with the much shorter range of 120 miles.
Iran's arms manufacturing program began during the country's ruinous 1980-88 war with neighboring Iraq to compensate for a U.S. arms embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and a fighter plane. The actual capabilities of the weapons, including the accuracy and range of the country's homemade missiles, are difficult to ascertain given the secrecy of the Iranian military.
READ MORE - Iran Test-Fires Its Longest-Range Missile

Blast Kills 20 in Central Pakistan

Officials say the blast ripped through a market Tuesday near the home of a politician in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan.

Pakistani officials say a suspected car bomb has killed at least 20 people and wounded 60 others in central Pakistan.

Officials say the blast ripped through a busy market Tuesday near the home of a politician in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan.  Investigators say several buildings have been badly damaged and they fear many people may be trapped under rubble.

The attack is the latest in a series of bombings that has killed more than 500 people in Pakistan since October.

Officials say militants are retaliating for an army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal region.

Last week, Pakistan's prime minister said the military's nearly three-month-old ground offensive in South Waziristan has been successful and officials are considering launching a new assault on strongholds in the Orakzai tribal agency.

The military released a statement Tuesday saying 17 suspected militants had been arrested and four had voluntarily surrendered within the past 24 hours of the operation.  The claims are difficult to verify because the military bars many reporters and aid workers from the region.

Pakistan's military says that overall, some 600 Taliban militants and 80 soldiers have been killed in the offensive.
READ MORE - Blast Kills 20 in Central Pakistan

The extraordinary story of the US 12th Infantry in Afghanistan

It's the meanest, most dangerous hellhole in Afghanistan. But instead of killing, the US 12th Infantry is trying to make friends. This is their extraordinary story..
Infantry on patrol
They were hanging a dog. Five minutes after we arrive, climbing to the sand-bagged rampart, looking down on the village.
And they were hanging a dog. "Why?" ponders Sgt Paul Hendricksen. "Beats the s*** outta me... " We'd watched the man leading the dog by a rope to the tree, followed by a baying bunch of kids. The animal was loping along, seeming to share in the fun.
Then his handler threw the leash over a high branch, waited for the crowd to gather, and started to pull.
The dog struggled, legs kicking air, taking a couple of minutes to drape dead-still.
The crowd yelled. The man let his rope slip.
The animal crashed into the moon-dust desert soil. Then they dragged the dog to the shade of another tree, where the man began to make a speech to his assembled audience.
He could have been a teacher addressing a class. He could have been a preacher. But no one up on the hill really knew.
"That's how it is here," Sgt Hendricksen adds. "So much is mystery. Just crazy things happening we can't explain. And, all the while, we're chasin' shadows."
The soldiers have a bunch of names for this place - The Wild West, Indian Country, The Heart of Darkness... the meanest, most dangerous hellhole in Afghanistan. And we are watching a dog die at its epicentre.
Senjaray is the village where one-eyed Mullah Omar, the Taliban's fugitive leader, was based. His mosque, a long, low building squats on the town's edge, untouched by war.
Detonated The US troops don't go near it. The villagers - some 12,000 in all, spread along the valley - would go crazy if infidels went there. So you don't trespass on their sensitivities any more than you would step in to save a trusting dog from being hanged.
Yet this is the place where the combined might of Nato and Afghan forces hope to turn the eight-year war.
Just below the hilltop, separating us from the village, is Highway 1 - the paved road ringing Afghanistan. The 30-mile stretch here was the country's most bombed - seven to 10 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, detonated daily.
A busload of Afghans blown sky high, 18 dead.
Soldiers stepping on hidden bombs - limbs, sight, lives lost.
"The burnt-out tractors, cars, military vehicles littering the road were a monument to Taliban success," says Colonel Reik Andersen, 43, commander of the 1st battalion of the 12th Infantry, stationed here some 30 miles south-west of Kandahar, the country's second largest city.
"The bad guys put their bombs in the culverts, slice up the road to make you drive in the moon dust. Then - boom! - another bomb. Now we're making progress. More troops. A bigger presence. Bombs down to 10 a month. But we have to treat the local area like a china shop.
"We're here to try to protect the population.
Sure, we could go in and be very kinetic.
But cracking heads is not the way forward.
"We may not win hearts and minds but we have to build trust and confidence."
The military call it the "tipping point" - the day when the locals decide they've had enough of the Taliban who come in the night and threaten them, demand shelter and food, recruit their kids, and use their homes as bomb factories.
"Maybe another 60-90 days before we get there," the colonel says. "Then we'll be able to arrest the prominent baddies, the IED makers, without a shot being fired." It sounds more hope than reality.
The Taliban, which controls 80% of the country, has its own shadow government. It dispenses law, benefits, a measure of protection in the countryside.
And it is a many-headed beast. There are the political ideologues like Mullah Omar, currently believed to be hiding in Karachi, Pakistan. Then the warlords profiting from the marijuana and opium trade. And finally, the Ten-dollar Taliban, the dirt-poor landless ready to pick up a gun for a pittance.
But, between the Taliban and warlords and our forces, there is always the local population. And those men and women are key to current thinking in Washington and Whitehall.
They call it "counter insurgency", bringing a measure of security to these outlying villages surrounding large centres like Kandahar. It's the doughnut theory.
Ring-fence the cities and leave the remote areas to the enemy, where they can do little damage. Meanwhile, train the Afghan military and police to take over one day, some day...soon.
And drum it into the soldiers here that they are not going out to kill - no matter how much they want to. Drum it into them, goddammit, that counter insurgency measures success by what's not happening. Col Andersen strokes the butt of the 9mm Beretta pistol strapped to his thigh as he talks and you sense his own frustration as an infantry officer trained to kill, yet ordered to be calm in a conflict that cannot be measured in the outcome of battles or number of dead and injured. All is softly, softly - while the colonel admits he still sleeps with that Beretta under his pillow.
"Hey man, we're having to behave like police," says Specialist Anthony Fazzini, 21, Senjaray Camp's electrician (whose rank is equivalent to lance corporal). "It's all, 'Love me, dude - please love me', instead of putting the s*** up them like we did in Iraq.
"We're talking to these villagers and we ain't got a clue whether they're OK or Taliban. It's us looking for them, seeing us looking for them. Who knows? "And our rules of engagement state we can't arrest them unless they are directly attacking us. Hell, you get so mad you wanna start shootin' everybody.
"I'm no trigger-happy sonofabitch, but I seen a truck being blown higher than the bomb smoke and you wanna get the guys who did that."
He signed up directly after graduating from high school in Pittsburgh and states he wanted to be a soldier ever since 9/11.
Because of his specialism, he is permanently based in this Combat Operating Point, right on the front line, a little hill ringed by mountains, dog-hanging villagers, dust and an infestation of mice.
His bed is in a concrete bunker, one of the smarter billets, but next to 20 live mortar rounds. He's listening to The Beatles and the camp's favourite tune Magical Mystery Tour - just as it was 40 years ago in Vietnam.
Its lyrics are sinister: "The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away, coming to take you away, dying to take you away..."
In the next door tent, where those mice run over your chest as you try to sleep, a bunch of soldiers are whooping and yelling as they play shoot'em-up computer game Call of Duty. The screen depicts troops fighting it out in a disused factory. Bodies fall in bloody showers, seeming to fill some kind of violent void.
Outside a full moon's on the rise, its big, grinning face conducting a crammed orchestra of stars.
The throb of 18-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles , six of them, stands ready for night patrol. We travel less than a mile before "dismounting" at a petrol station owned by Haji Lala, a local big shot, pal of President Hamid Karzai and, for now, friend of the Americans.
His compound is across the road, with separate dwellings for Wife 1 and Wife 2. We pass them and tread through rutted fields, vineyards, marijuana plantations smelling like skunk musk, dried leaves sticking to my fleece. "Hey dude, better clean that off before London or some sniffer dog'll surely eat you up," says Pte Robert Bickford from Santa Rosa, California. He's laughing but here, always, the laughter is short.
These guys, according to the colonel, are "fearless in a gunfight" but night patrols "raise the hackles on your neck". You try to step on plants, not on moondust.
You are conscious of every pace.
This battalion has already lost five guys to IEDs. Just one small step... In the middle of a field we find a stone-traced copy of the Combat Operating Point, finely detailed.
Someone photographs it. Another soldier notes its GPS location. They're confident it is a Taliban blueprint.
But who knows here among the shadows, maybe it's just child's play.
A baby is crying nearby. Dogs barking. Pte Bickford falls running to stop a turbaned motorcyclist.
"My finger's right here, if he didn't halt," says the 22-year-old private, pointing to the trigger on his M4 rifle. His trousers are torn, right knee bleeding. "Hope there's no donkey s*** in there."
Shuffling The motorcyclist is "clean". So are the few other villagers, mostly old men, squatting against the mudwalled alleys in the gloom.
They tell the soldiers all they want is security. Just the chance to tend ther fields and who knows after that? More jobs, schools, hospitals... "Inshallah".
The night passes without incident. The usual sporadic Taliban gunfire...just to remind you. The freezing cold. Mice shuffling. The early-rising black private picking up his baseball bat, and trying hopelessly to club 'em to death.
The morning patrol through the village with 2nd Platoon. The kid who throws a rock and gets his bicycle wheel bent by an angry soldier in return. The barked orders. The less-than-friendly stop-andsearches of passers-by. The five little children, brothers and sisters, reciting the Koran by rote - the only schooling available. The US journalist saying "Good job these guys are under policing rules, otherwise they'd really f*** up."
Lunch. Fried chicken, baked beans, hot dogs, Baskin-Robbins' Cookies 'n Cream, Oreo biscuits, apples, fresh filtered coffee.
And after lunch: launch a few mortars. Thirty of them aimed over the village and the Bedouin tents at the mountains three miles away. The Taliban have observation points there.
Sgt William Parchum from Louisiana has a £9,250 bounty on his head, the usual Taliban prize for killing a mortar specialist. His men take turns dropping the bombs into the cannon. The detonation and silver flash as the bomb flies to 7,000ft. The 52-second flight of an 80mm missile. The puff of smoke as it hits target; and then the roar. "Oh man, I felt that motherf*****," yells Bickford. "Dude, we got rubble!" And then, moments after the mortars finish painting a smiley face on the mountain, another explosion, this time on Highway 1, a half-mile from camp. An IED definitely. A blast in the midst of traffic. Bickford looks away, face suddenly serious.
"Guess it's a bad day for someone," he says.
Tomorrow: The soldier fighting for his 9/11 aunt..
READ MORE - The extraordinary story of the US 12th Infantry in Afghanistan

Thais Seize Plane Carrying 35 Tons Of Weapons From North Korea

BANGKOK — Five foreigners were detained and their foreign-registered aircraft impounded after it landed in the Thai capital Saturday with tons of war weaponry on board that originated in North Korea, Thai officials said.
Air Force spokesman Capt. Montol Suchookorn said the chartered cargo plane originated in North Korea's capital Pyongyang and requested to land at Bangkok's Don Muang airport to refuel.
Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn confirmed the seizure and the arrests, saying the weapons included "missiles, explosives and tubes." He told The Associated Press that the material was being transferred to a Thai military facility but provided no further details.
The Web site of the Manager Group said the aircraft, an Ilyushin 76 transport from Kazakhstan, was traveling from North Korea to Sri Lanka when it asked to land in Bangkok.
Officials, it said, found up to 45 tons of weapons on board and detained four citizens of Kazakhstan and one from Belarus.
Thai Television station TPBS showed footage of the five men detained and trucks loaded with the weapons being driven out of the airport to a military base in the nearby province of Nakhon Sawan. It said the cache amounted to 35 tons of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades.
READ MORE - Thais Seize Plane Carrying 35 Tons Of Weapons From North Korea

CIA Snaps Ties with Blackwater over Drone Missile Loading in Pakistan, Afghanistan

image CIA Snaps Ties with Blackwater over Drone Missile in Pakistan, Afghanistan
New York : The CIA has canceled a contract a private security firm Blackwater for to load bombs onto drone aircraft in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
New York (ABC Live): The CIA has cancelled a contract a private security firm Blackwater for to load bombs onto drone aircraft in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As per information contract was terminated because CIA Director Leon Panetta was not happy with the performance of Xe(earlier it was Blackwater) employees .
Confirmation of termination of contract has come from  a CIA spokesman, George Little that Mr Panetta had since ordered that the agency's employees take over the task.
It is to mention that, Blackwater was actively involved in Iraq between 2004 and 2006 with agency.
READ MORE - CIA Snaps Ties with Blackwater over Drone Missile Loading in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Pakistan is losing this great game

Barack Obama's surge in Afghanistan worries Pakistan – when the US leaves, it will still have to deal with the Taliban

There is more to President Obama's policy shift in central Asia than more boots in Afghanistan. For Pakistan it represents an escalation of US drone strikes in the tribal areas and continued pressure on its army to immediately engage the Taliban and al-Qaida despite the practical complexities of the task.

The fundamental problem for Pakistan is that Obama's acceleration of the war against the Taliban has been calculated largely on the basis of domestic US political demands and not those of the region, let alone Pakistan. Already under intense pressure at home from the financial crisis and the unpopularity of the US presence in Afghanistan, Obama must deliver some semblance of victory before he bids for a second term as commander-in-chief in 2012.

The strange paradox of US policy for "AfPak", however, is that the troop surge represents the storm before the calm. No matter what the rhetoric at West Point was, the message from the Obama administration is that the US will leave Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.

According to the veteran journalist Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan's army has already approached key commanders in the pro-Afghan Taliban resistance to ensure that, in the event of a US withdrawal, Pakistan is viewed as a friendly Muslim nation. Not entirely coincidentally, last month the Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar rejected the latest call for peace talks from the president, Hamid Karzai. Well aware that time is on his side, Omar has consistently refused negotiations until all foreign armies have left Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, this makes disarming the Afghan Taliban within its borders even less appealing than it already was. For starters, Pakistan security forces have had to extensively rely on pro-Afghan Taliban commanders in North and South Waziristan to capture the main sanctuaries of the Hakeemullah Mehsud-led Pakistani Taliban.

Unlike its Afghan cousin, the Pakistan Taliban movement seeks to overthrow the Pakistan state. Because it is an existential threat to Pakistan, current operations are aimed at eliminating this branch of the Taliban.

Once the boosted US-led force engages the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan it will be difficult for Pakistan to retain the sensitive ceasefires that enable access to strategic regions of the tribal areas and ensures that the Afghan Taliban do not join Mehsud's insurgency in Pakistan. "Pakistan cannot fight on all fronts [at once]," explains Tariq Khan, inspector general of the Frontier Corp, the country's key paramilitary outfit in the tribal areas.

Pakistan has been confronted with some sobering realities. Many of the Pakistan Taliban's fighters and key commanders like Mehsud have fled their hideouts and are still at large. The violence has escalated; almost every one of Pakistan's major cities has been rocked by devastating bombings that have claimed about 500 lives in two months, even though the Afghan Taliban has not been directly involved in the violence.

The terrifying truth is that in the absence of social and political solutions, no amount of police sleuthing or security checkpoints will ever prevent a committed foe with many thousands of young suicide bombers from transforming the suburbs of Pakistan into a warzone. If the Afghan Taliban were to join the fray it would be an even bigger massacre.

Despite this, Washington has continued to press Pakistan to escalate its ground offensives with apparent ignorance or reckless indifference to the consequences for Pakistan.

According to media reports, the CIA has decided to expand drone strikes deeper into the tribal areas and the province of Baluchistan – a larger and more restive and remote region of Pakistan than the tribal areas. Any such expansion will no doubt greatly destabilise Pakistan as the insurgents push deeper into the country to avoid being hit and intense hostility to the drone strikes reaches fever pitch.

When Pakistan recaptured the scenic Swat Valley from the Taliban between May and August, western capitals lauded its resolve to finally defeat extremism. As soon as that and other battles had been waged and won, however, Pakistan was publicly cajoled by Washington, and occasionally London, for not accelerating the war even further. For so many Pakistanis, whether members of the elite or not, it all feels like a giant game that Pakistan can never actually win.
READ MORE - Pakistan is losing this great game

U.S. Marines Train Illiterate Farmers to Be Police

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan —  The U.S. Marines were tense looking for bombs buried near a mud compound in this remote farming town in southern Afghanistan. Their new Afghan police colleagues were little help, joking around and sucking on lollipops meant for local kids.
The government had sent the new group of 13 police to live and train the Marines just a few days earlier. Most were illiterate young farmers with no formal training who had been plucked off the streets only weeks before.
Building a capable police force is one of the keys to President Barack Obama's new Afghan strategy. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Tuesday to discuss how to recruit more Afghan police to meet Washington's goal of expanding the force from about 94,000 today to 160,000 by 2013.
The Marines' experience in Khan Neshin, once a key Taliban stronghold in volatile Helmand province, shows just how difficult the task will be.
The provincial government fired the last group of police assigned to Khan Neshin after more than half of them failed a drug test, prompting them to rebel by throwing rocks at the Marines. When the police weren't smoking drugs, Afghans complained they were taking goods from the bazaar without paying.
"The guys who were here last time put a bad taste in people's mouths by being typical of what people think of the Afghan National Police," said Gunnery Sgt. Randy Scifo, a military policeman from the 1st Marine Division who recently took over responsibility for the police in Khan Neshin.
Scifo said he was surprised the new group showed up without any training, but the police academy on a coalition base near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah was full. The Marines expect to receive more than 20 graduates from the school toward the end of the month and will send this new group to the academy in January. Until then, they are not allowed to carry weapons.
"I want to bring peace and security to my country," said Mohamed Ullah, an 18-year-old with a wispy black beard from Helmand's northern Kajaki district.
The Marines spend their days teaching the recruits the basics of patrolling, sweeping the ground for buried bombs and searching people and vehicles. They prepared for their mission by working with a group of Afghan-Americans in a mock town set up on their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Scifo said.
But that training didn't prepare the Marines for all the cultural challenges they now face in an area where they are relying on their local counterparts for guidance.
A village elder approached the chief of the new police during a recent patrol to complain that security forces should consult with local leaders before searching people's homes. The incident occurred just after Marines and police entered the compound of a suspected Taliban supporter.
"When you come to search a house, it is insulting because there are women there and it is against our culture and religion," said Fathi Mohammed, a 60-year-old farmer with a long gray beard and black turban.
NATO hopes a well-trained Afghan force will be more effective than international soldiers in winning local trust so that the Taliban cannot return to areas cleared by the coalition.
And the comfort with which the elder approached the Afghan police chief, Lt. Sayed Mohamed, showed an Afghan force can be more effective than the Americans at working with the locals.
The chief is the only member of the new force who has proper training. He was also the only one on joint patrols who did not wear a bulletproof vest or helmet — a risky move, but it made him appear more accessible.
He was constantly approached by Afghans who had problems with the Marines or local government. One man who walked five hours to Khan Neshin to speak with the district governor, only to find him absent. Instead he met Mohammed and hugged him after they spoke.
"I tell the locals that we will change the behavior of the police," Mohammed said. "I'm going to make a place in their hearts for me and my officers."
That could be a daunting task, according to a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace. It said the dramatic growth in the size of the Afghan police force over the past few years has not been coupled with an increase in quality.
"Despite the impressive growth in numbers, the expenditure of $10 billion in international police assistance, and the involvement of the United States, the European Union, and multiple donors, the ANP is riddled with corruption and generally unable to protect Afghan citizens, control crime, or deal with the growing insurgency," said the report.
Scifo said eventually he would like to push the graduates who come to Khan Neshin out to some of the more remote patrol bases where the Taliban are active. But he is not sure whether that will happen during the seven months he is in the country because he doesn't know how capable the recruits will be.
"It's not like I'm ordering from Dominos Pizza and getting exactly what I want," said Scifo.
READ MORE - U.S. Marines Train Illiterate Farmers to Be Police

CIA's Blackwater Ties Run Deep, Private Firm Participated In Covert Raids

WASHINGTON — Private security guards working for Blackwater USA participated in clandestine CIA raids against suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Blackwater's role points to a much deeper connection between the company and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed and raises concerns over the legalities of involving contractors in the most sensitive operations conducted by the U.S. government.
The "snatch and grab" raids took place regularly between 2004 and 2006, the Times reported, when the insurgency in Iraq was escalating and security throughout the country was deteriorating.
Asked for comment on the report, CIA spokesman George Little did not confirm the role that the Times said Blackwater played but defended the use of contractors on intelligence missions.
"This agency, like many others, uses contractors in roles that complement and enhance the skills of our own workforce, just as American law permits," Little said late Thursday. "Agency staff officers have the decision-making authority and bear responsibility for results."
Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., changed its corporate name to Xe Services after a series of use-of-force controversies, including a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad by five company security guards that left 17 civilians dead.
The Times also reported that former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on CIA flights that transported detainees.
Messages seeking comment left with Xe representatives were not immediately returned late Thursday.
The report comes as the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the agency's hiring of Blackwater to be part of a program to kill or capture al-Qaida leaders. The death squad program had several lives over an eight-year period before it was canceled in June by current CIA Director Leon Panetta. The CIA has said the effort yielded no successes.
The CIA has been reducing its reliance on the use of contractors over the past few years.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred after a contraction of the CIA in the post-Cold War period and which compelled the agency to hire contractors to rapidly fill its ranks for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
READ MORE - CIA's Blackwater Ties Run Deep, Private Firm Participated In Covert Raids

Bin Laden capture or death is key to defeating al-Qaida, US general says

Stanley McChrystal, US army commander in Afghanistan, tells Congress terror group's leader is 'iconic figure'

Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Gen Stanley McChrystal and US diplomat Karl Eikenberry appear together  at the House armed services committee.
Gen Stanley McChrystal and US diplomat Karl Eikenberry appear before Congress. Gerald Herbert/AP
Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden is key to defeating al-Qaida, the US army commander in Afghanistan said yesterday.
Testifying before the US Congress, General Stanley McChrystal said Bin Laden was an "iconic figure" whose survival emboldened al-Qaida as a franchising organisation across the world.
"It would not defeat al-Qaida to have him captured or killed, but I don't think that we can finally defeat al-Qaida until he is captured or killed," he said.
However, the military commander warned that he could not promise his new military strategy would lead to Bin Laden's capture because, when the al-Qaida leader moved out of Afghanistan, trying to track him down was "outside my mandate".
McChrystal and his diplomatic counterpart, the US ambassador Karl Eikenberry, presented a united front to Congress after a highly publicised rift over the value of sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to combat the Taliban.
The two sat uneasily side by side to give hours of testimony to the armed services committee, providing more detail about how the US planned to stabilise Afghanistan and begin to bring the first troops home in July 2011.
McChrystal acknowledged that the mission would to be difficult, saying: "Results may come more quickly, but the sober fact is that there are no silver bullets.
"Ultimate success will be the cumulative effect of sustained pressure."
The Taliban would avoid mass attacks, knowing their vulnerability to US firepower, he said.
Instead, he predicted insurgents would use suicide attacks, hidden roadside bombs, and coercion of the local population where there were no security forces at night.
Eikenberry expressed full support for McChrystal and the extra troops, saying: "I am unequivocally in support of this mission ... I am exactly aligned with Gen McChrystal in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission."
His statement appeared to be a reversal of scepticism expressed when McChrystal – appointed by Barack Obama to command all US and allied forces in Afghanistan – asked for extra troops in September.
Eikenberry, a retired general appointed as ambassador by Obama, opposed the deployment as worthless unless the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, first tackled corruption, according to two leaked memos.
The divide had underlined the dilemma facing Obama as he struggled to come up with a strategy for Afghanistan: whether it was worth sending more US troops to prop up a corrupt government.
At the start of his evidence, Eikenberry sought to stress that previous disagreements with McChrystal were behind him.
"I am honoured to testify alongside Gen Stan McChrystal, my professional colleague and friend of many years," he said.
Questioned by members of Congress about their earlier differences, he denied he had been opposed to reinforcements.
"It was a question of the number of troops ... the timelines ... the context that those troops would operate in," he explained.
The White House debate over the future of Afghanistan was prompted by McChrystal's September assessment of the situation. The general revealed he was set to provide a further assessment this month.
He described the next 18 months as the most critical in the conflict, and said the mission was "achievable".
Admitting that history was full of failed counter-insurgency strategies, he said what made Afghanistan different was that the Taliban had been in power, was not seen as credible then and was not viewed now as a national liberation movement.
Another plus, he said, was that the US was not viewed by the population in the way the Soviets had been.
"Afghans do not regard us as occupiers," he told Congress, but listed serious problems including the Afghan government's corruption, its "credibility deficit" and the need for Pakistan to tackle extremists operating from its side of the border.
McChrystal revealed that the July 2011 date to start withdrawal had not come from him. He said he was concerned the Taliban would seize on the date "inappropriately" to suggest the US was preparing to desert the Afghans, but said he could deal with that.
READ MORE - Bin Laden capture or death is key to defeating al-Qaida, US general says
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