Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saudis Tell Israel : Accept Peace Deal On Palestine Or Face War

Don't Place Your Future In The Hands Of "The Lords Of War" Saudis Warn Israel

Israel Will Be "Recognised" By All Arab Sates If They Pull Back To Pre-1967 Borders

The Saudis and Arab Gulf states have clearly had enough of Israel's endless stalling on the finalisation of a two-state solution with the Palestinians and are loudly demanding Israel fall into line with a new peace plan or face the likelihood of further violence, and eventually war.

The meeting amongst the Arab states in Riyadh this week was an historical event of quite epic proportions. The Saudis shook hands with the Syrians, the Egyptians shook hands with the Iranians, who also shook hands with the Saudis, and key power players from the UN, including the Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, opened the talks. Then followed days of negotiations and working parties, conferences, speeches and discussions.

Remarkably, the United States were virtually all but invisible during the peace talks.

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has been effectively marginalised and squeezed out of the current Big Push led by Arab states to bring the 60 year conflict between Israel and Palestine to an end.

The US may be sponsoring the talks, but they are doing so from the back of the room.

Here's the short version of the deal the Arab states, led by the Saudis, have come up with, and are waiting for Israel to accept :

...all Arab countries will officially recognize Israel in return for its withdrawal from all land occupied in the 1967 war.

A Palestinian state will be established in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital. The plan also proposes granting the right of return to all Palestinian refugees.

It is the right of return for refugees that Israel opposes most vehemently.

In an interview with the London Telegraph, the Saudi foreign minister warned :

"If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war," he said.

Prince Saud dismissed any further diplomatic overtures towards Israel. "It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything," he said.

"What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done," he said. "So now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to have gotten the message from the Saudis, and looks set to live up to his promise to work for peace with the Palestinians :
The Israeli Prime Minister today described an Arab plan to make peace with the Jewish State as "revolutionary" and said the region could sign a final deal within five years.

Ehud Olmert made his remarks in a series of newspaper interviews this morning, after leaders of the 22 Arab countries gave their unanimous backing to a plan which would commit them to developing diplomatic relations with Israel if it first agreed to a "land-for-peace" deal with the Palestinians.

Only two states, Egypt and Jordan, currently have full diplomatic relations with Israel after signing peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, so the latest pledge for full diplomatic normalisation - which includes the hawkish Syrian regime - is regarded as hugely significant.

“There is a real possibility that Israel can sign a global peace accord with its enemies within five years," the Israeli Prime Minister said.

Asked whether he meant “all of the Arab world,” the Israeli leader replied: “yes."

Excerpts from a London Times earlier this week on the Arab summit:

Opening the summit, Mr Ban spoke of the urgency of reaching a solution, warning that the Middle East was on a knife-edge and describing the region as “more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it has been for a very long time”.

Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor of The Times, said from Riyadh that the talks are being seen as a significant attempt to achieve some sort of progress in the Middle East peace process.

“The Saudis have really taken up the mantle on this and there is a level of expectation,” he said. “The hope is that the Arab nations can find a wording they can all accept, giving them an agreed position.”

“Previously Israel had shown little support for the initiative, but recently it has been making friendly noises towards the plans. What the US would like is for this initiative to pave the way for some sort of talks between the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – and Israel and the Arab nations.

“The real thorn is the issue of Palestinian refugees, with Israel rejecting the idea of vast numbers returning.”

While Saudi Arabia is "flush with money", a key reason why the Saudis have been so influential and insistent on first negotiating peace between Fatah and Hamas, and then between the Arab world and the Israelis, may have a lot to do with the ascendancy of Iran :

The menacing spectre of Iran, the rising Shia power with nuclear-tipped ambitions for regional dominance, looms large across the waters of the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia is quietly moving to contain its bellicose neighbour. Prince Saud offered conciliatory words to Iran, laced with coded criticism. "We have no inhibitions about the role of Iran," he said. "It is a large country. It wants to play a leading role in the region, and it has every right to do so. It is an historic country. But if you want to reach for leadership, you have to make sure that those you are leading are having their interests taken care of and not damaged."

Saudi Arabia has privately urged Iran to stop enriching uranium, in compliance with United Nations resolutions and lay to rest any suggestion that it is seeking nuclear weapons. Prince Saud called for a "Middle East free of nuclear weapons" with "no exceptions for anybody, be it Israel or Iran".

King Abdullah Calls For End To Palestinian Blockade

At the Arab summit, Saudi King Abdullah addressed the gathered leaders of the Muslim world and announced that the international blockade against the Palestinian government now had to end :

"It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so that the peace process can move in an atmosphere far from oppression and force," King Abdullah said at the opening of the summit.

Israel and the United States have urged countries to cut political and financial support for the Palestinians because Hamas, which leads the government, refuses to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals.

Fears are high among Arab leaders that a US-led attack on non-Arab Iran, which has refused to comply with UN demands to halt atomic work, could further destabilise their region.

Riyadh, pressed by its ally Washington to show more leadership in the region, has called on Sunni Muslim states to overcome divisions, arguing a united front will help persuade Israel to address Palestinian grievances.

Finally, it's worth taking a look back at a speech President Bush gave to the UN General Assembly in September, 2006. Should a final peace be reached between the Israelis and Palestinians, historians will cite this Bush speech as a ignition switch for the momentum that has carried talks through the past seven months to the historical events now becoming reality in the Middle East.
The world must also stand up for peace in the Holy Land. I'm committed to two democratic states -- Israel and Palestine -- living side-by-side in peace and security.

I'm committed to a Palestinian state that has territorial integrity and will live peacefully with the Jewish state of Israel. This is the vision set forth in the road map -- and helping the parties reach this goal is one of the great objectives of my presidency.

The Palestinian people have suffered from decades of corruption and violence and the daily humiliation of occupation. Israeli citizens have endured brutal acts of terrorism and constant fear of attack since the birth of their nation. Many brave men and women have made the commitment to peace. Yet extremists in the region are stirring up hatred and trying to prevent these moderate voices from prevailing.

This struggle is unfolding in the Palestinian territories. Earlier this year, the Palestinian people voted in a free election. The leaders of Hamas campaigned on a platform of ending corruption and improving the lives of the Palestinian people, and they prevailed.

The world is waiting to see whether the Hamas government will follow through on its promises, or pursue an extremist agenda. And the world has sent a clear message to the leaders of Hamas: Serve the interests of the Palestinian people. Abandon terror, recognize Israel's right to exist, honor agreements, and work for peace.

President Abbas is committed to peace, and to his people's aspirations for a state of their own. Prime Minister Olmert is committed to peace, and has said he intends to meet with President Abbas to make real progress on the outstanding issues between them.

I believe peace can be achieved, and that a democratic Palestinian state is possible.

I'm optimistic that by supporting the forces of democracy and moderation, we can help Israelis and Palestinians build a more hopeful future and achieve the peace in a Holy Land we all want.

Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed -- it must be chosen. From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom. And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice, as well: Will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East -- or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists? America has made its choice: We will stand with the moderates and reformers.

It is unfortunate then that historians will also recognise that as President Bush gave this speech, US State Department NeoCon aligned power brokers and hardline Zionist Israelis were telling Palestine's Prime Minister Abbas that he had to destroy the "unity" government of Hamas and Fatah.

Historians will recognise that it was the Saudis who brokered the eventual peace last month between Fatah and Hamas, and brought to an end the growing civil war inside Palestine. The US and Israel, along with the UK and Australia, refused to recognise Hamas, nor deal with them in any way whatsoever. This left Abbas isolated and near powerless. He had no choice but to work with Hamas to prevent further chaos.

It is likely that when the Saudis learned what the US and Israeli aligned Neocons were up to, they realised the NeoCon-approved 'Total Chaos In The Middle East' plan was being sparked into life, and they worked fast and hard to wind back the growing tensions in their region.

The Saudis brokered the peace between Hamas and Fatah, and then the Saudis created the Arab states unity that led to the Riyadh meeting where a final peace deal was developed and handed to Israel and the United States.

The Fatah-Hamas peace deal brokered by the Saudis shocked the Israelis and the United States. It wasn't supposed to happen that way. They were not involved. And that moment marked, for the Arab states at least, the failing influence of the United States to shape the future of peace in their region.

As discussed above, the Palestinians, the Saudis, all of the Arab states, now wait to see what Israel and the United States decides to do next.

Will it be peace? Or will it be war?

The Saudis have successfully let the world, and the world's media, know that the chance for final peace is now in the hands of Israel.

Ehud Olmert's talk yesterday of a final peace within five years, the end of the conflict between Palestine and Israel has never looked so close, nor so realistic.

Olmert Praises "Revolutionary Change In Outlook" By Arab States, Commits To Talks

Abbas Extends Hand Of Peace To Israel

Millions Of Palestinian Refugees Cling To Hope Of "Right Of Return" To Their Lands

Israel Resists US Plans For Mid East Peace Talks Over Palestinians "Right To Return Home"

After Israel Veto Of Earlier Plans, Rice Presents Israel-Approved Scaled Back Version Of Middle East Peace Deal

Israel Unlikely To Budge On Palestinians Right Of Return

"There Is A Real Possibility Israel Can Sign A Global Peace Accord With Its Enemies Within Five Years"
Russian Expert : Only Days Until US Begins War On Iran

US Troops Reported To Be Massing On Iranian Border

Here's some snippets from Russian media that have barely registered, let alone recieved any coverage, in Australian, American or British press.

You can write it all off as Russian propaganda if you like. Pray that it's just Russian propaganda, but it fits into the Western media reports of US forces massing in the Persian Gulf, and rising tensions with Russia and the Saudis. It certainly seems like something big is coming.

(Some of these snippets were translated from French via Babelfish, so they might read a bit rough)

From Novosti :
Russian military experts estimate that the planning of the American military attack against Iran passed the point of nonreturn on February 20, when the director of the IAEA, Mohammed El Baradei, recognized, in his report....the incapacity of the Agency "to confirm the peaceful character of the nuclear program of Iran".

...a military action will proceed during the first week of April, before Easter....when the "Western opinion" is on leave. It may be also that Iran is struck Friday 6, public holiday in the Moslem countries.
The report cited claims the attacks will last for a total of twelve hours, and will run under the code name 'Operation Bite'.

A "score" of Iranian nuclear and military installations will be targeted, along with "centres of study" and laboraties tied to the nuclear program.

Predicted response from Iran will be to sink tankers on the Strait of Ormuz to cut oil shipments. Some 25% of the world's oil flows through these straits.

The aim of the attack is set the Iranian nuclear program back by several years.

If the attacks by the United States go ahead, expect oil to roar up and beyond $80 per barrel within days. Back in the US, this could translate into more than $5 a gallon.

What the American media is promoting is the "show of force" the United States is now undertaking in the Persian Gulf. The French are in there as well.

From the Washington Post :
The U.S. Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes.

The U.S. exercises come just four days after Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines who Iran said had strayed into Iranian waters near the Gulf. Britain and the U.S. Navy have insisted the British sailors were operating in Iraqi waters.

A French naval strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, was operating simultaneously just outside the Gulf. But the French ships were supporting the NATO forces in Afghanistanand not taking part in the U.S. maneuvers, officials said.

Overall, the exercises involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel on warships and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and finding mines.

A Russian report on US troop activity from within Iraq, close to Iran's borders :
Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost."

Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said last week that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.

A new U.S. carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Gulf.

The USS John C. Stennis, with a crew of 3,200 and around 80 fixed-wing aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, eight support ships and four nuclear submarines are heading for the Gulf, where a similar group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been deployed since December 2006.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Russia's 'Sizzler' Missile Feared By The US

Capable Of Destroying Entire Aircraft Carrier, Yet US Said To Have Defence Against It

China's Got 'Sizzlers', But What About Iran?

It is the one missile the US military reportedly has no defence against it. The Russians built it, the Chinese have already deployed it, installing it on eight deisel submarines, and the Iranians want it. Or maybe they've already got it.

Whether the US military knows the full scale of defensive weapons and military technology Iran has accumulated since their defeat in the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s is debatable.

But what isn't debatable is the awesome destructive capability of the 'Sizzler' missile. What else can you say about a supersonic missile that flies fast and low can take out an aircraft carrier, except 'Oh Shit.'

From Bloomberg :

The U.S. Navy, after nearly six years of warnings from Pentagon testers, still lacks a plan for defending aircraft carriers against a supersonic Russian-built missile, according to current and former officials and Defense Department documents.

The missile, known in the West as the 'Sizzler,' has been deployed by China and may be purchased by Iran. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England has given the Navy until April 29 to explain how it will counter the missile, according to a Pentagon budget document.

"This is a carrier-destroying weapon,'' said Orville Hanson, who evaluated weapons systems for 38 years with the Navy. "That's its purpose.''

"Take out the carriers'' and China "can walk into Taiwan,'' he said. China bought the missiles in 2002 along with eight diesel submarines designed to fire it, according to Office of Naval Intelligence spokesman Robert Althage.

Charts prepared by the Navy for a February 2005 briefing for defense contractors said the Sizzler, which is also called the SS-N-27B, starts out flying at subsonic speeds. Within 10 nautical miles of its target, a rocket-propelled warhead separates and accelerates to three times the speed of sound, flying no more than 10 meters (33 feet) above sea level.

On final approach, the missile `"has the potential to perform very high defensive maneuvers,'' including sharp-angled dodges, the Office of Naval Intelligence said in a manual on worldwide maritime threats.

The Sizzler is `"unique,'' the Defense Science Board, an independent agency within the Pentagon that provides assessments of major defense issues, said in an October 2005 report. Most anti-ship cruise missiles fly below the speed of sound and on a straight path, making them easier to track and target.

A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia also offered the missile to Iran, although there's no evidence a sale has gone through. In Iranian hands, the Sizzler could challenge the ability of the U.S. Navy to keep open the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated 25 percent of the world's oil traffic flows.

The Navy's ship-borne Aegis system, deployed on cruisers and destroyers starting in the early 1980s, is designed to protect aircraft-carrier battle groups from missile attacks.

But current and former officials say the Navy has no assurance Aegis, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., is capable of detecting, tracking and intercepting the Sizzler.

Then again, that might be just want the US Navy wants Iran, Russia and China to think.
Iraq : Millions Of Tons Of Munitions Have Been Lost


From the Washington Post :

The U.S. military's faulty war plans and insufficient troops in Iraq left thousands and possibly millions of tons of conventional munitions unsecured or in the hands of insurgent groups after the 2003 invasion -- allowing widespread looting of weapons and explosives used to make roadside bombs that cause the bulk of U.S. casualties, according to a government report released yesterday.

Some weapons sites remained vulnerable as recently as October 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office report, which said the unguarded sites "will likely continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region." For example, it said hundreds of tons of explosives at the Al Qa Qaa facility in Iraq that had been documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency were lost to theft and looting after April 9, 2003.

The powerful explosives missing from the Al Qa Qaa complex became a controversy on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, and the Pentagon said then that a U.S. Army demolition unit had destroyed up to 250 tons of explosives at the site.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that securing the unexploded munitions in Iraq is "a huge, huge problem." "The entire country was one big ammo dump," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "We're doing our best to try and find them but, given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks that the military is trying to carry out there, it's a huge task," he said. Gates has said that roadside bombs cause about 70 percent of U.S. troop casualties.

Gates also acknowledged that the war in Iraq would slow the ability of the U.S. military to fight another major conflict. "We would not be able to achieve our goals on the timelines that we've set for ourselves in terms of being successful in that other conflict," he said. "It would take a little longer and we would not be as precise. We would not have as many precision weapons," he added. "It would be more of a blunt-force effort."

The GAO report pointed to several critical assumptions underlying U.S. military war plans in 2003 that proved invalid -- including expectations that Iraqi resistance was unlikely and that the Iraqi army would capitulate and continue to provide security.

As a result, widespread looting of munitions took place, including at the majority of Iraqi Republican Guard garrisons as well as 401 other sites, according to the GAO.

Pentagon programs have secured or disposed of more than 417,000 tons of munitions, the report said. But it said an unknown quantity -- ranging from thousands to millions of tons of conventional munitions -- remain unaccounted for.

Israel And Syria Getting Ready For War, Or Peace?

Biggest War Preparation Drills Held In Israel In Decades

Israel is getting nervous. The war against Lebanon, now called 'The Second Lebanon War', failed to destroy Hezbollah, despite the backing of the United States and emergency weapons shipments into Israel.

A looming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program no longer looks as easy as it once did, particularly now that the governments of Iraq, Syria, Russia and China have all recently signed multi-billion oil and gas deals with Iran, and Russia and China have both vowed to protect their "national interests" in the region.

Israel is now said to be looking at a more positive relationship with Syria, again with the backing of the United States, despite Syria's support for terrorist groups who've long vowed to destroy the Zionist-controlled state.

But the war-related propaganda continues to flow. Of particular interest is a report on the Syrian 'independent media' site Champress which claims : "European officials have been claiming to Syrian leaders the past few weeks Israel is preparing for a military confrontation with Damascus..." :
European leaders visiting Damascus in recent weeks delivered messages stating Israel was taking measures in advance of a large-scale conflict with Syria, including updating battle plans, training reservist soldiers and preparing the home front for missile attacks.

One senior European Union official told Assad the Israeli government instructed its major hospitals not to allow staff to take vacation time during the summer months for fear a conflict will break out during that period, according to the Baath party source.

According to a report today in the London-based Al-Hayat daily, talks between Israel and France concerning Syria concluded Israel is not interested in weakening Assad, because it does not know whether his replacement would present superior diplomatic alternatives. French officials told the newspaper Israel perceives Assad as weak but is not interested in confronting Syria out of fear that intervention would alter the political situation there.

Assad, who signed a military alliance with Iran, is accused of supporting the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq and funneling money and weapons to Hezbollah. Leaders of major Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, reside openly in Damascus.
Last week, Israel held a massive war-ready drill, its largest since the state was established in 1948. The drill cost more than half a million dollars and involved 25% of Israel's entire police force. It also roped in soldiers, paramedics, government staff and firefights, and covered more than 130 municipalities.

From the Washington Times :
Sirens wailed throughout Israel as thousands of rescue personnel in cities in the country's center and south scrambled to a series of simulated terrorist and missile attacks.

The purpose of the unprecedented two-day exercise....was to test their response to a September 11-like confluence of strikes against Israeli civilian and infrastructure areas.

There were Palestinian rocket barrages from Gaza in the town of Sderot, a chemical bomb at a school in this Tel Aviv suburb, and a conventional missile explosion at a Tel Aviv power plant. Soldiers were drafted as screaming schoolchildren, and others played the parts of hysterical parents and aggressive journalists from abroad.

With widespread concern about looming confrontations in the Gaza Strip; the border with Lebanon and Syria; and Iran, the display was also meant to win back the confidence of a public deeply jaded toward the government and security forces after the bungling of last summer's war with Hezbollah.
Now that's detail, even rehearsing how the military and police will deal with "aggressive journalists from abroad". Not surprisingly, considering the rocket barrages that landed all over Israel during 'The Second Lebanon War' last year, the drill and wailing sirens terrified thousands.

Rumours circulate now in diplomatic circles that Israel is preparing to follow US advice and offer to hand back most of the disputed Golan Heights region, between Israel and Syria, in exchange for Syrian commitment to stop supporting, financing and arming, Hezbollah and providing haven to leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Israel appears to no longer be interesting in undermining or overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, appearing to a take a 'better the devil you know' approach, no doubt fearing that once Assad is gone, a government more fully alligned with the now strengthened Hezbollah might seize control and pose an even greater threat to Israel.

US Has "Serious Concerns" Over Russian Arms Sales To Syria

500 Kilometre Long Oil/Gas Pipeline To Be Built Between Iraq & Sryia, Governments Announce Deal

Israel And EU Split Over How To Deal With Palestinians, US In Middle

Israel Says Lebanon Cease Fire In Jeopardy Over Israeli Prisoners, Arms Shipments From Syria

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Soldiers Bodies Burned In Streets Of Mogadishu

Insurgency Erupts In Somalia

As widely predicted, the American backed removal by Ethiopia military forces of the Islamic Courts from Mogadishu has resulted in Somalia returning to outbreaks of shocking violence, as a fresh insurgency starts to sweep through the capital, Mogadishu.

More than 40 people have died in clashes so far between military and insurgency forces.

Hundreds of families have fled the violence in Mogadishu. Two soldiers were dragged through the streets of the capital and their corpses torched in front of reporters, in scenes reminiscent of the 'Black Hawk Down' slaughter of American special forces in the mid-1993.

Somali government officials claim they have been under constant attack from Islamist insurgents since they took back control of Mogadishu in December last year from the Islamic Courts movement. Islamists claim, however, that the attacks are mostly coming from civilians who don't want the old government back in power, believing they are puppets of the United States and Ethiopian governments.

From GaroweOnline :

The fighting erupted in Shirkole, south of the city, when government forces tried to extend their control over the area, said an eyewitness.

"They [government forces] came less than an hour after morning prayers [5am]. As soon as they tried to move into the area they met stiff resistance [from residents]," he said. Government forces were pushed back, towards the former defence ministry headquarters, where Ethiopian troops are based, he said, adding that residents were "quickly joined by courts militias [remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts]".

The government said it was carrying out a security operation to collect illegal weapons from the residents.

A doctor, who confirmed the number of the dead, said almost 60 percent of those killed and injured were women and children.

A local journalist, who declined to be named, said the latest fighting was heaviest since the Transitional Federal Government took over the city in late December 2006. "It is no longer a hit-and-run thing but two groups of fighters facing each other," he added.

The Somali insurgents are fighting against a combined military force of Ethiopian and Somali government forces :

Hundreds of resistance fighters used rockets, mortars and light weapons to defend their turf against government expansion.

Government troops, backed by Ethiopian tanks and armor, positioned deep within insurgent strongholds overnight Tuesday, sparking the deadly clashes of the next morning, residents said.

Mobs of angry locals and insurgent fighters dragged the dead bodies of government soldiers through the streets and set them ablaze, reviving images from the unsuccessful U.S.-led United Nations peacekeeping mission in the mid-90s.

The fighting continued late into the afternoon, spreading into new areas and forcing hundreds of families to flee their homes.

It was the fiercest single day of battles since Somalia�s transitional government arrived in Mogadishu late last year.

Before then, Mogadishu and much of south-central Somalia was under the helm of the Islamic Courts authority, an Islamist group often credited for returning law and order during their six-month rule.

The government says Islamist rebels are responsible for nonstop attacks against its personnel and allies.

But the Islamists� former legislative chief, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, told the BBC that the resistance in Mogadishu was fueled by locals who did not wish to be under foreign military

From the New York Times :
Ethiopian troops and the soldiers of Somalia’s transitional government (are) both reviled by many people in Mogadishu, Somalia’s chaotic capital. Residents are now beginning to fear that this transitional government is headed in the same direction as the 13 transitional governments that came before it — into a vortex of clan violence and anarchy that has made Somalia an icon of a failed state.

At dawn on Wednesday, Ethiopian and government soldiers stormed into a neighborhood in southern Mogadishu to disarm gunmen there. Instead, witnesses said, they were greeted by dozens of masked insurgents who blasted them with rocket-propelled grenades.

More than 15 people were killed, including several government soldiers and possibly two Ethiopians.

The neighborhood is home to several clans that feel alienated by the transitional government and was a stronghold of the Islamist movement that took over the city and much of south-central Somalia last year, before being defeated by Ethiopian and government soldiers in December.

Somalia was not supposed to be like this anymore. Over the past several months, Ethiopia, the United States, the United Nations and the African Union have invested more hope and resources in the country than at any time since the failed peacekeeping mission of the early 1990s.

Heavy Fighting Between Somali Troops And Insurgents

Somali Clan Leaders Home Attacked

Savagery In Somalia - Soldiers Killed, Torched In Street

African Union Commander In Somalia Pleads For More Troops

Islamist Chief Claims Somali Government Leaders Working For Ethiopia

December 2006 : Ethiopian Prime Minister Declares War On Somali Islamists

January, 2007 : Third Day Of US Air Strikes Inside Somalia Leaves Dozens Dead

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Turkey Prepares To Invade Iraq To Contain US-Backed Kurdish Push For Independent State

Russia, China Unlikely To Tolerate Regional Threats To Their Strategic Interests

US Warns Turkey About Threats To "Territorial Integrity" Of Northern Iraq, Will Protect Kirkuk

By Darryl Mason

UPDATE - Raw Story reports :
Turkey says that 3,800 Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) guerrillas are preparing for attacks in south-east Turkey, and that it is "ready to hit back if the Americans fail to act," reports the Guardian Unlimited.

Senior Bush administration officials, meanwhile, have assured Turkey that the US will step up efforts in Northern Iraq to root out PKK fighters.

Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington, warned that military intervention by Turkey in the region could be "disastrous" in terms of destabilizing the region.

Speaking about US support for Iranian Kurds opposed to Tehran he added, "Once you begin to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' terrorist organisations, then you lose the war on terror."

UPDATE 2 - From the London Times :

A scramble for Kurdish oil licences is expected this summer after Ashti Hawrami, the oil minister for Iraq’s Kurdish region, said yesterday that he wants to achieve a production goal of one million barrels a day by 2012.

The Kurdish move signals that Iraq is poised to open its doors to foreign oil investment.

Kurdish oil is a first step to developing Iraq’s vast potential. Foreign investors have so far shied away, fearing that investment in the Kurdish region will threaten their chances of winning bigger contracts in the south. Iraq produces only two million barrels a day from ageing reservoirs but has reserves estimated at 110 billion barrels — about three times the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea to date.

Previously -

Media reports from Turkey appear to confirm weeks of rumours that Turkey is moving forward with its long-planned invasion of Northern Iraq. The Turkish Military, by far the most powerful in the Middle East, has cancelled all leave and has moved "additional forces" up to Iraq's northern border. The target of the presumed invasion will be the 'outlawed' PKK, otherwise known as the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Turkey's chief concern is that the PKK will move across the border, via mountain passes, when the current snow and ice blocking the paths melts as Spring begins.

The PKK wants an independent Kurdistan nation, primarily in northern Iraq, with the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as its capital, but with territory swallowing up land now under Iranian, Syria and Turkish control.

Kirkuk is a glittering prize coveted by the United States, the Kurds and Israel, as it sits amongst oil fields holding more than 10 billion barrels in proven reserves. The rumour mill in Iraq has long claimed that an oil pipeline from Kirkuk, skirting Jordan, will eventually reach Israel.

Turkey believes that the United States is covertly backing the PKK in its plans for an independent Kurdistan, not only to share in the oil riches such a state would then control, but because it would allow the Americans to use Kurdistan territory for permanent air and army bases, by which the US could expand its reach into Iran and Syria.

From Zaman :

On March 10 Land Forces Commander Gen. İlker Başbuğ visited Diyarbakır in southeastern Anatolia and said that he went to the area to evaluate the current state of affairs with respect to internal security operations under way in the region as well as developments that were likely to arise in spring and summer. He added that they would also make an assessment as to what measures could be taken in the face of emerging conditions.

One week after Başbuğ’s visit, the 2nd and 3rd Armies deployed in the border region were put on alert while Turkish troops were sent to the border and were significantly reinforced.

The Office of the Chief of General Staff acknowledges extraordinary military activity in this region but adds that they are not evaluating a cross-border operation, a measure that is also opposed by the United States. However, Turkey’s decision will be shaped according to the steps the US soon takes.

This activity in the region should not be considered a cross-border operation but as preliminary preparations for a cross-border operation, the intelligence sources say.



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In its strongest statements against military action by Turkey against the PKK so far, the United States has made clear it will defend the "territorial integrity" of Northern Iraq if Turkey crosses the border to move against the Kurds.

From the Turkish Daily News :
The United States made it clear on Monday that it "certainly" opposed any Turkish military action inside northern Iraq to fight the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party's presence there.

A top Turkish military commander at the weekend reaffirmed Ankara's right under international law to send troops into northern Iraq to attack the PKK terrorists hiding there if it saw fit.

But U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that Washington certainly did not want to see any Turkish military operation in the Iraqi-Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. "We believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq," Casey told reporters.

"We certainly are working well with the government of Turkey, as well as with the government of Iraq, to try and enhance our cooperation in combating the PKK."

Turkey maintains that the PKK is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Turkish civilians and soldiers in terrorist attacks since mid-2004, launched from inside Iraq. Turkey maintains that PKK terrorists are being armed, fed and sheltered by sympathetic Kurds in mountain regions of Northern Iraq, close to the border with Turkey.

The PKK, meanwhile, insists that its intentions are not violent, that it will ultimately be successful in its decades-long battle for an independent Kurdistan, and that it is willing to negotiate with Turkey to end conflict, but would only do so "on its own terms."

From the International Herald Tribune :
Kurdish rebels say they have enough weapons to defend themselves against Turkish raids on their bases in northern Iraq but remain open to a political settlement with Turkey that recognizes Kurdish national identity.

Turkey is pressing Iraq and its American ally to crack down on rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who launch attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The group has been waging a bloody war in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed 37,000 lives.

The Turks have not ruled out military incursions into Iraq to hunt PKK fighters, despite U.S. fears that such a move could lead to tensions with Iraqi Kurdish groups, important allies of the U.S. in Iraq.

During an interview last week with the a PKK mountain stronghold, a spokesman for the PKK insisted that the rebels have the weapons to resist any Turkish incursion.

"Our fighters are training very hard since we heard the Turkish threats," Rustam Jawdat said. "We have enough fighters to defend ourselves."

On the diplomatic front, tension is growing between the US and Turkey over a resolution making its way through Congress that, if passed, would see the United States officially recognising the Armenian genocide, during World War I, which resulted in the deaths of more than one million people.

How aggressively would Turkey react to such official recognition by the US of something so sensitive to the Turkish people, which they have long denied? Turkey is likely to react by shutting down a key US air base inside Turkey :
Turkey provides vital support to U.S. military operations. Incirlik Air Force Base, a major base in southern Turkey, has been used by the U.S. to launch operations into Iraq and Afghanistan and was a center for U.S. fighters that enforced the "no-fly zones" which kept the Iraqi air force bottled up after the 1991 Gulf War.
Warnings about the dangerous political and military fallout from the resolution being passed have come from a key US general, as well as from the Bush White House.

The Incirlik Air Force Base is vital for US operations inside Iraq, and Turkey, likewise, is essential to the transport of oil, cargo and supplies for US military operations in the region.
"Turkey opened Incirlik Base to the U.S., there are 22 U.S. war planes there. Turkey admitted 16 U.S. war ships in its ports, and nine of them are supplying goods to the troops in Iraq, while seven of them are transporting oil. 25 percent of the oil used by U.S. troops in Iraq is sent from Habur. 60 percent of the air cargo sent to the U.S. troops in Iraq passes through Incirlik Base."

And there's the billions of dollars in US defence contracts that Turkey may decide are not worth pursuing, including the Joint Strike Fighter :
Turkey will buy 106 planes, and the project is worth 10 billion USD. Turkey will purchase 30 new F-16 war jets in return for 1.65 billion USD. More than 200 F-16s are being renovated in return for 1.6 billion USD. Turkey will buy 1.3 billion USD of air defense system in 2007. Turkish army wants 52 helicopters to be used against the terrorist organization PKK, and Black Hawk is one of the alternatives. Turkey will purchase 21-26 million USD of zeppelins from the U.S. to fight against infiltration of terrorists from Iraq".
In short, if the United States Congress passes the bill officially recognising the Armenian genocide, Turkey will make the US pay, and will put at risk key missions and goals of the Iraq War. Expect one big fat veto from President Bush if the bill is passed.

The United States now finds itself caught between Turkey and the Kurds. And the pressure from the Kurdish Media continues to grow :
It is time the (US) State Department cared more about the legitimate human and national rights of forty million downtrodden Kurds held captive against their will by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, than the imperialistic and racist attitudes of a state that is guilty of state terrorism and of cultural and linguistic genocide against an entire people, a state guilty of eradicating the very name of a nation, of what makes a human being a human being and a people a people.
But China and Russia are unlikely to stand idly by if Turkey decides to invade Iraq to deal with the "Kurdish problems". Such a move by Turkey would put at risk billions of dollars of Chinese and Russian business interests, to say nothing of their strategic interests. It would also put at risk deals already being negotiated by Russia and China to access oil from Kirkuk.

Iran may be the focus of the American media, for now, but the brewing war in Northern Iraq between Turkey and the PKK is likely to have far greater consequences for the United States in the long run, and could act as a trigger for an incomprehensible, but realistic, wider World War drawing in Russia and China.

United States Warns Turkey It Will Protect The "Territorial Integrity" Of Iraq Against Turkish Strikes On PKK Terrorists

The Prize : Kurdish Region May Contain 45 Billion Barrels Of Oil, 100 Trillion Cubic Feet Of Natural Gas

Turkey Cancels Military Leave, Prepares For War Against The Kurds

Kurdish Rebels Claim They're "Open" To Peaceful Resolution With Turkey

Kurdish Media : The Tail Wagging The Dog - The United States And Turkey

Official US Recognition Of Armenian Genocide Threatens Rupture With Turkey

Turkey Threatens To Close Down US Military Base Used To Launch Air Strikes In Iraq And Afghanistan

Monday, March 19, 2007

US Military In "Death Spiral"

Iraq War Has Left United States With No 'Ready' Brigade To Effectively Defend International Interests

The US Army and Marine Corps ares running out of trained troops and equipment at an unprecedented rate.

Some 40% of the US Army and Marine Corps. vehicles, weapons and general equipment has been consumed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the only training now being undertaken is to deal with "the insurgencies at hand".

A stunning story from the Washington Post quotes 'officials' as claiming the US Army and Marine Corps is in a "death spiral".

The main points from the story :

* The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the US Army in a such a state of disrepair, it will take years and tens of billions of dollars for the Army and Marine Corps to get back up to pre-War on Terror levels of efficiency, maintenance and readiness.

* Senior officers of the US Military warn the risk to the United States is "serious and deepening."

* The US Military has been left with a gaping deficit of reserve ground troops required if they are to deal "quickly and decisively with potential foreign crisis", with Iran, Pakistan and North Korea cited as being of particular concern.

* The Bush-backed troop "surge" into Baghdad is believed to have left "critical Army overseas equipment stocks for use in another conflict...depleted."

* Keeping the troop "surge" at the levels demanded by President Bush beyond August this year - more than 32,000 extra combat troops - would become "a challenge".

* The US Army currently does not have one single brigade standing ready and equipped to immediately deploy to a foreign "hot spot" should hostilities break out that put at risk American interests.

From the Washington Post :

Equipment is also lacking among Army units in the United States, the vast majority of which are rated "not ready" by the Army, based on measures of available gear, training and personnel, according to senior military officers and government officials. Active-duty Army combat brigades in the United States face shortages of heavy, medium and light tactical vehicles such as Humvees; radios; night-vision goggles; and some weapons, Cody said.

The shortages have deepened as scarce equipment and personnel are funneled to those units next in line to deploy overseas, creating ever bigger holes in the units that will leave later. "It's like a hurricane drawing everything into the center of the eye," said a senior Army officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Under current Army and Marine Corps plans, it will take two to three years after the Iraq war ends and about $17 billion a year to restore their equipment levels. It will take five years and at least $75 billion for the Army to increase its active-duty ranks to 547,000 soldiers, up from the current 509,000, and for the Marine Corps to increase its numbers to 202,000, up from 180,000.

It's almost impossible to believe that the US Military, until recently internationally recognised as the most powerful and effective fighting force on the planet, has been so depleted by the Iraq War, particularly, that its interests internationally now stand all but defenceless, according to the on and off the record interviews cited in the Washington Post story.
It's almost impossible to believe that the US Military, until recently internationally recognised as the most powerful and effective fighting force on the planet, has become so utterly depleted and so thoroughly weakened by the Iraq War; that its interests internationally now stand all but effectively undefendable, short of air or naval support, according to the on and off the record interviews cited in the Washington Post story.

You may recall that Osama Bin Laden said, before the Iraq War began, that Al Qaeda's primary strategy to defeat the United States was to draw the US into war fighting on numerous fronts, where its military forces would then be worn down over years of fighting, while the costs of maintaining multiple wars would eat into the strength of the American economy, break down American homefront and military morale and deplete the resources of its fighting forces.

It's sickening to realise today, as the Coalition of the Willing enters the fifth year of the Iraq War that Osama Bin Laden's strategy to "destroy America" has been so completely embraced and so effectively played out by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Osama Bin Laden must be marvelling at just how easy it was to draw the Bush administration into carrying out his long-term vision of destabilising the military and financial strength and global standing of the United States.

Iraq War Veteran : 10% Of Returned Soldiers Suffer Brain Injuries
War Protests Continue Across the US

Australian PM Prepares To Increase Troops To Iraq, Vows To Stay The Course

Terrorists Attack Iraqis With Chlorine Truck Bombs, Hundreds Sickened

7 Americans Troops Killed In One Day, Four Die In One IED Attack - Al Sadr Tells Muslims To Stop Killing Each Other

1/3 Of Iraq's Children Malnourished - 5000 Iraqis Leave Country Every Day

Iraq Poll - Only 18% Of Iraqis Trust, Have Faith, In US Soldiers - 86% Of Iraqis Live In Fear Of Family Member Being Killed

Monday, March 12, 2007

Claim : Plans In Place For US To Begin Iraq Troop Withdrawals If "Surge" Plan Fails

But Bush Ups New Troop Increases

It appears the Bush-backed last ditch troop "surge" plan to improve security in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, might really be the last roll of the dice many pundits claimed it would be :
The United States has begun planning to gradually withdraw combat soldiers from Iraq and place a greater emphasis on training if the current troop increase fails, it was reported today.

The Los Angeles Times said the fallback strategy, based partly on the US experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, was in the early planning stages.

A Pentagon official told the paper: "This part of the world has an allergy against foreign presence. You have a window of opportunity that is relatively short. Your ability to influence this with a large US force eventually gets to a point that is self-defeating."

The LA Times report came as the president, George Bush, confirmed at the weekend that he would send an extra 4,700 combat support troops and military police to Iraq in addition to the "surge" of 21,500 combat forces announced in January.

A whittling down of the US military presence would fit in with comments made to Congress by the defence secretary, Robert Gates, last month. He said that if the "surge" failed, the fallback plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way".

(US General ) Petraeus has only about six months to improve the situation, particularly to reduce the level of sectarian killing in Baghdad.

Gen Petraeus is taking a markedly different tack from the retiring commander for the Middle East, John Abizaid, who wanted to hand over responsibility for security to the Iraqis as quickly as possible and get US combat forces out by next year.

Iraq Pleads With Neighbouring Countries To Seal Borders, As Top US Commanders Make Shock Admission That Iraqi Resistance/Insurgency Is Outsmarting Coalition Forces

Washington - Tehran Rift Exposed At Groundbreaking Sunni/Shiite Nations Meeting To Deal With Iraq's Future

NeoCon Claims Troop "Surge" Is Working, "Despite The Violence"

US Army Now Ordering Injured Troops Back Into Iraq War Zones

Bush Demands Congress Approve 'Unlimited' War Funding With "No Strings Attached"

Claim : More Than 3500 Kurdish 'Terrorists' Now Active In Northern Iraq, Turkey Sounds More Dire Warnings

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Return Of Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda, such as it was, had been pretty well neutralized as a viable fighting force by the end of 2001. The Australian, British and Americn SAS in Aghanistan, and hundreds of deep-cover agents in Pakistan, saw to that. The Brits, Americans, French and Germans had shut down their international financing and money transfers and holding banks.

Al Qaeda shocked the Muslim world with 9/11 and disgusted jihadists who wanted to only focus on military targets. They became their own worst enemy. The Afghanistan War mopped up the remains. It would have taken a few more years, but deep-cover agents would have effectively picked off the remaining power centres of Al Qaeda. The reason Bush said he didn't care where Osama was, or if he was alive, was because that was what his intel was telling him in 2002 : Osama was irrelevant and he had destroyed his own cause.

But then came the Iraq War. We know the story. Once the bombs started falling and the women and children were shown blown to pieces, and the rich cultural heritage of Mesopotamia was allowed to be publicly vandalised and degraded by looters (including international looters and antique traders), what remained of Al Qaeda had all the visual propaganda they needed to build back up their forces and support bases and ramp up the rhetoric.

Al Qaeda tried to tell the Muslim world that America wanted to destroy them through the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the vast majority of Muslims knew they were full of crap. Because they were.

But Iraq allowed Al Qaeda to claim they were right about 'The Great Evil'.

A fringe terror group of well-financed and well-trained operatives who scored some major hits (African embassies, The USS Cole, WTCs) became a decades long threat to international order off the back of Iraq.

Considering all that, it is easy then to believe that some in the Bush inner circle wanted Iraq to create an enemy worthy of half a trillion a year in defence spending.

After all, getting US defence spending back up to Cold War levels again was outlined clearly and precisely in a number of the NeoCon-centric Project For A New American Century policy statements in the late 1990s.

Overthrowing Iraq was key to the NeoCon Grand Plan to reshape the world and pump up defence spending to incomprehensible levels.

It worked.

From the New York Times :

As Al Qaeda rebuilds in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a new generation of leaders has emerged under Osama bin Laden to cement control over the network’s operations, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

The new leaders rose from within the organization after the death or capture of the operatives that built Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, leading to surprise and dismay within United States intelligence agencies about the group’s ability to rebound from an American-led offensive.

It has been known that American officials were focusing on a band of Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan’s remote mountains, but a clearer picture is emerging about those who are running the camps and thought to be involved in plotting attacks.

American, European and Pakistani authorities have for months been piecing together a picture of the new leadership, based in part on evidence-gathering during terrorism investigations in the past two years. Particularly important have been interrogations of suspects and material evidence connected to a plot British and American investigators said they averted last summer to destroy multiple commercial airliners after takeoff from London.

Intelligence officials also have learned new information about Al Qaeda’s structure through intercepted communications between operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas, although officials said the group has a complex network of human couriers to evade electronic eavesdropping.

The investigation into the airline plot has led officials to conclude that an Egyptian paramilitary commander called Abu Ubaidah al-Masri was the Qaeda operative in Pakistan orchestrating the attack, officials said.

Mr. Masri, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan, is believed to travel frequently over the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was long thought to be in charge of militia operations in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, but he emerged as one of Al Qaeda’s senior operatives after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian who was killed by a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.

The evidence officials said was accumulating about Mr. Masri and a handful of other Qaeda figures has led to a reassessment within the American intelligence community about the strength of the group’s core in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and its role in some of the most significant terrorism plots of the past two years, including the airline plot and the suicide attacks in London in July 2005 that killed 56.

Although the core leadership was weakened in the counterterrorism campaign begun after the Sept. 11 attacks, intelligence officials now believe it was not as crippling as once thought.

That reassessment has brought new urgency to joint Pakistani and American intelligence operations in Pakistan and strengthened officials’ belief that dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure there could disrupt nascent large-scale terrorist plots that may already be under way.

Jason Burke, writing in the UK Observer :

On his 40th birthday, Osama bin Laden's followers gave their leader a white stallion. Bin Laden, a keen horseman despite back problems, rode for hours through the dusty farmland and hills around his base north of Jalalabad, the eastern Afghan city.

Yesterday the leader of al-Qaeda turned 50. It is unlikely that the gesture was repeated. Almost all the men who gave their chief the stallion are now dead, the base has been dismantled and a similar ride would be to risk detection, identification and a pinpoint missile strike. Yet, though he may lack horses and veteran associates, bin Laden is far from finished. Indeed, nine years after his declaration of war on the West and five and a half years after the attacks of 11 September, 2001, their leader is as present as ever on the world stage, linked, rightly or wrongly, to violence across half the globe.

This weekend there is talk of an al-Qaeda connection to the recent spate of particularly bloody bombings in Iraq. The trial of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the terror group's associate who originally planned the 9/11 strikes, is due to start in Guantanamo Bay and will spark massive media interest. In the UK a series of trials of alleged Islamic militants, some accused of having links to bin Laden's closest collaborators, continue. In Afghanistan, where British casualties mount every week, Taliban militants boast of the forces they have gathered for a 'spring offensive'. The continuing evolution of the phenomenon of 'al-Qaeda' continues to surprise - and deeply worry - those charged with keeping us safe. An investigation by The Observer, involving hours of face-to-face interviews with current and former government and military officials, experts and intelligence analysts in Afghanistan, Britain, France, Germany and Morocco, as well as sources contacted in a dozen other countries including the US and Pakistan, reveals why - and discloses the frightening reality of the changing threat.

The camp is high in the mountains, near the Afghan city of Khost, at the end of a dirt track on the border with Pakistan. It is not much to look at - a few mud buildings and some tents that are barely visible on the satellite photographs that Western intelligence experts spend hours poring over. It does not even have a name. But it is the symbol of a newly resurgent al-Qaeda 'hard core' or 'headquarters' that is, according to analysts, 'more dangerous than ever'.

For the camp is a training centre, run by a mixed team of Afghan, Arab and Pakistani instructors, fundraisers and ideologues. It is only one of half a dozen such installations set up in the past 18 months. It is in these camps, The Observer has learnt, that dozens of British citizens are thought to have been trained and then sent into Afghanistan to fight in recent months. The men, all of whom come from families with strong links to Pakistan, are said to number between 20 and 30, although details are scant. Security services have traced the individuals to the camps - most of which are on the Pakistani side of the border - but then lost the trail.

The men have either died in combat, are still fighting American, British or other Nato nations' forces in the country or are 'on their way home', say sources in the US, the UK and southwest Asia. 'We just hope they are dead,' one source admitted. 'It's best that they blow themselves up over there than over here.'

The men, like the camp, are part of a new wave of al-Qaeda activism that has astonished security services. As well as the British recruits suspected of having died in Afghanistan, The Observer investigation has revealed that:

· Britain is universally considered to be the nation 'most threatened by a major terrorist strike' outside the Middle East or southwest Asia because of its strong support for American foreign policies, relative accessibility compared to the US and strong historic connections to Pakistan which allows in hundreds of thousands of British subjects to travel virtually unmonitored every year. Though only a tiny minority are involved in militancy, the ease of access to the country for Urdu-speaking Britons is a huge advantage to those bent on violence.

· Al-Qaeda has re-established its 'nerve centre' in the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan. The country is now considered the 'centre of gravity' of al-Qaeda by security services and the 'critical battlefield' in the years to come.

· Contrary to the British government's public claim, every source spoken to by The Observer, official or otherwise, in Britain and elsewhere believes the Iraq war has exacerbated the threat to the UK specifically and to the West generally. 'It is a huge part of the problem,' one senior British government counter-terrorism specialist said. However, contrary to exaggerated reports, the number of Westerners who have gone to Iraq to fight is said to be 'a handful'.

· Major co-ordinated attacks on the critical infrastructure of Western nations, such as the Channel Tunnel or passenger jets, are 'within the capability and ambition' of militants close to the al-Qaeda leadership and acting independently and are being actively planned.

· All sources consulted believe Osama bin Laden to be alive. However, his death would 'make little operational difference', analysts say, possibly damaging 'the organisation' but not 'the movement'.

· All thought the struggle against Islamic terrorism was growing and would last 'many decades'.

Western government analysts now usually split al-Qaeda into three elements. The first is a 'hard core' of well-known leaders such as bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his Egyptian-born associate, in Afghanistan. Security officials believe key decisions and operations take place on a new 'middle management' level dedicated to training volunteers who make their way to Pakistan and to co-ordinating both propaganda and bomb attacks around the world.

'Al-Qaeda as an operational, technically capable network, with chains of command leading back to Pakistan from many places, is very much alive and well and continuing to plot,' said one security source. 'This is very, very surprising given the damage they have suffered but they are a very resilient organisation.'

Although the mid-level management frequently suffers losses as key figures are arrested or killed - 'the job with the shortest life expectancy in the world must be al-Qaeda's director of external communications,' said one UK official - there is no shortage of new faces to fill the ranks. 'We are seeing an entirely new generation of militant,' said one US source.

The second element is the 'network of networks', defined as the series of groups affiliated to the al-Qaeda hard core in Iraq, elsewhere in the Middle East and, increasingly, in some North African countries. These 'franchises' have links to individuals inside Western European countries, particularly the Algerian-based Groupe Salafiste de Predication et le Combat, and are seen as a potentially major threat. Analysts see a 'clear convergence, practically and ideologically, among militant groups globally' with greater co-ordination between them.

'There is subcontracting of functions,' said one Casablanca-based expert. 'Groups in Morocco were tasked with logistics for groups elsewhere, in Spain for example. So, like multinational companies, al-Qaeda "delocalises" key functions - and constructs cosmopolitan leadership teams.'

So the arrest of two French militants returning from Iraq, who were allegedly planning to strike in Italy, has not surprised officials in Paris. 'Plot an attack here, execute it in another country and hide somewhere else is very logical,' said Christophe Chaboud, head of France's Anti-terrorism Co-ordination Unit.

'The national barriers are falling by the wayside,' said one Pakistani official. 'Once a group was just dedicated to jihad in Kashmir or Afghanistan. Now it has a far broader agenda and engagement.' With Kashmiri groups historically having a significant presence in the UK, this growing unity is of great significance for British domestic security.

Significantly, the Taliban in Afghanistan is not considered to be closely linked to the al-Qaeda hard core, though there is reported to be ad hoc co-ordination between the various groups comprising the insurgency, including some transfer of technical and tactical know-how and cash. One civilian source in Kabul described links between Afghan and Iraqi militants as 'sketchy'.

'The Afghans are said to have learnt their bomb-making skills from the Iraqis but in some areas, such as detonators, they are far ahead and need no tuition,' he said. Only two of the 140 suicide bombers who have died in Afghanistan since mid-2005 have come from outside Afghanistan, Pakistan or Afghan and Pakistani communities living overseas.

'They may well include British Pakistanis,' the source said, 'After the explosion, it is difficult to tell.' Some suicide bombers have been identified as relatives of people killed in coalition bombing strikes who are seeking revenge.

Bin Laden himself, however, is thought by Afghan military sources to be exploiting his links through marriage to senior Taliban figures such as Mullah Mohammed Omar to boost his security. 'Being part of a tribal network makes him much safer,' said one Afghan official. Though some believe that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are in the northern Afghan province of Kunar, the consensus is that they remain further south, probably in the mountains south of Khost. They are unlikely to be together, to prevent the organisation being decapitated by a single strike. Many analysts believe that, instead of moving around, bin Laden has 'found a bolthole and has bolted it'. No one can be sure. 'Hard info on bin Laden's recent whereabouts or his state of health is one of the rarest commodities in the world,' said an ex-CIA officer.

The third element of 'al-Qaeda Mk2', say security officials, is ideology. This has mobilised thousands of young Muslims from a wide variety of backgrounds around the world in the last five years. Analysts now say their radicalisation is occurring far faster, aided by the internet. 'We are talking about a group of guys deciding to do something in West Yorkshire, Paris, Casablanca or Montreal', said one Western intelligence official. 'It's still amateur.'

But it can be horribly effective. According to France's Chaboud, the largest source of danger 'is the home-grown extremist'. Belgian officials point to a recently arrested teenager who had 'gone from no engagement at all to full commitment to a suicide attack' in the space of a few weeks 'alone with a computer in his bedroom'. British officials talk of suspects so young that '11 September is virtually a childhood memory' being radicalised by 'slick, effective' propaganda and contacts with older people. 'Teenagers' bedrooms are difficult to penetrate,' said one UK official.

Group thinking plays a major role. 'In reinforcing each other's view of the world, there is a shift in the perception of what is acceptable and normal,' said one senior counter-terrorism official. One Whitehall official described the sentiments of embryonic militants, often second or third generation immigrants, as: 'I am unhappy, I have an identity problem, I have too much testosterone, I have some mates who feel the same way.'

It is not the poorest people who are drawn to militancy either. The standard profile is male, mid-twenties, often with a degree and with parents who have migrated, often from southwest Asia or north Africa to the West. There are also an increasing number of converts.

But though, according to one Whitehall official, 'there is not a single person who has posed a major threat here in recent years who was not radicalised primarily in the UK,' the crucial 'X factor' which changes angry young men into terrorist killers does comes from overseas, British and French government analysts have concluded.

'For a few years it looked like the core of al-Qaeda had been destroyed as a genuine physical presence by the war of 2001 and all that remained were its ideas, powerful though they were,' said one senior Western European security source. 'Yet we have seen the core element returning as a major force. They can provide the critical legitimacy and direction that volunteers need.'

Analysts point to journeys made by the leader of the 7 July London bomb plotters, Mohammed Siddique Khan, to Pakistan, where he is believed to have met senior al-Qaeda figures. In a speech last November the director-general of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, said terrorist plots in Britain 'often have links back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan', adding that 'through those links al-Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale'.

The fact that videos featuring the logo of al-Sabah, the al-Qaeda production house, now emerge within days of an event rather than taking weeks as they once did, has reinforced the idea that the 'al-Qaeda hard core' has been able to rebuild in the havens it has established in the rugged hills of northwest Pakistan.

It is the continually evolving interaction between the three main elements - the hard core, the network of networks and the ideology - that make it so resilient. Last year Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Metropolitan Police, described the threat to the UK from al-Qaeda-related terrorism as 'real, deadly and enduring'.

The problem, say all the sources, is not going to go away soon. 'Some talk about a generational struggle, something taking around 30 years but I think that is too optimistic,' said a senior UK source.

Ten years ago, when bin Laden rode his horse across the Afghan hills, few outside specialised circles had even heard of him. Now he is one of the best-known individuals on the planet. And therein may lie, for him at least, the best birthday present of all.

Key Figures

At large:

Osama bin Laden
Accused of masterminding the 11 September atrocities, he has been indicted for the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa and the attacks in 2000 on the guided missile destroyer USS Cole. Last confirmed sighting in Afghanistan, 2001.

Ayman Al-Zawahiri
Egyptian al-Zawahiri is seen as the strategic thinker of al-Qaeda. He was a key figure in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged with al-Qaeda.

Saif Al-Adel
A former Egyptian army officer, was Bin Laden's security chief and ran al-Qaeda's training programmes.

Abu Mohammed Al-Masri
The 45-year-old Egyptian ran the training camps in Afghanistan.

Believed dead:

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi
A Jordanian, he rose to notoriety as head of militant Islamic groups in Iraq. Killed in a US airstrike on an Iraqi safe house in June 2006.

Mohammed Atef
Al-Qaeda's military commander, died in an airstrike near Kabul in 2001.

In prison:

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Captured in Pakistan in 2003, he is to be tried at Guantanamo, accused of being an architect of the 11 September attacks. Born in Pakistan, Mohammed joined al-Qaeda in the mid-1990s.

Ramzi Binalshibh
Also to be tried as a key plotter of 11 September . The former bank clerk from Yemen was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002.

Abu Zubaydah
A Saudi of Palestinian origin, he ran the logistics for bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. Implicated in the USS Cole attack. Captured in Pakistan, he is to stand trial.

Ali Abdul Rahman Al-Ghamdi
Said to be al-Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia. Suspected of masterminding the 2003 Riyadh bombings. Surrendered to Saudi authorities shortly afterwards.

Al Qaeda is the best thing to happen for the multi-trillion dollar global war industry since Hitler.