Sunday, September 30, 2007

NeCon Bolton Says No Alternative Left But To Launch "Pre-Emptive" Strikes On Iran, Depose Mahmadinejad Regime

Key BushCo. Aide Tells British MPs "I Hate All Iranians"

Former US ambassador the UN, and internationally despised 'diplomat', John Bolton is ramping up the NeoCon propaganda campaign to get Americans used to the idea that launching pre-emptive war on Iran is the only option the US now has left.

It's the latest set of remarks in a clear, precise and well-organised propaganda campaign to 'seed' the idea that Iran is going to be armed with nuclear weapons and so War On Iran must begin now, not later.

On Friday in the UN Security Council, both China and Russia, as expected, refused to back a slate of new sanctions on Iran.

China and Russia have both stated that they would retaliate for any attacks by Israel or the United States on Iran, who they view as an essential business partner, an energy source and an important ally.

From the UK Guardian :
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, told Tory delegates today that efforts by the UK and the EU to negotiate with Iran had failed and that he saw no alternative to a pre-emptive strike on suspected nuclear facilities in the country.

" is about choices, I think we have to consider the use of military force. I think we have to look at a limited strike against their nuclear facilities."

He added that any strike should be followed by an attempt to remove the "source of the problem", Mr Ahmadinejad.

"If we were to strike Iran it should be accompanied by an effort at regime change ... The US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments. I wish we could get it back."

The fact that intelligence about Iran's nuclear activity was partial should not be used as an excuse not to act, Mr Bolton insisted.

"Intelligence can be wrong in more than one direction." He asked how the British government would respond if terrorists exploded a nuclear device at home. "'It's only Manchester?' ... Responding after they're used is unacceptable."

Mr Bolton, now a fellow at the conservative thinktank the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a forthcoming book called Surrender is Not an Option, was applauded by delegates when he described the UN as "fundamentally irrelevant".

US Defence Secretary Aide Tells British MPs "I hate all Iranians" :
Britsh MPs visiting the Pentagon to discuss America's stance on Iran and Iraq were shocked to be told by one of President Bush's senior women officials: "I hate all Iranians."

And she also accused Britain of "dismantling" the Anglo-US-led coalition in Iraq by pulling troops out of Basra too soon.

The all-party group of MPs say Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs to Defence Secretary Robert Gates, made the comments this month.

The six MPs were taken aback by the hardline approach of the Pentagon and in particular Ms Cagan, one of Mr Bush's foreign policy advisers.

The MPs say that at one point she said: "In any case, I hate all Iranians."

"She seemed more keen on saying she didn't like Iranians than that the US had no plans to attack Iran," said one MP. "She did say there were no plans for an attack but the tone did not fit the words."

Another MP said: "I formed the impression that some in America are looking for an excuse to attack Iran. It was very alarming."

NeoCon Movement 'Grandfather' Told Bush To Bomb Iran, Bush Laughed :

One of the founding fathers of neoconservatism has privately urged President George W Bush to bomb Iran rather than allow it to acquire nuclear weapons.

Norman Podhoretz, an intellectual guru of the neoconservative movement who has joined Rudolph Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign as a senior foreign policy adviser, held an unpublicised meeting with Bush late last spring at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

The encounter reveals the enduring influence of the neoconservatives at the highest reaches of the White House, despite some high-profile casualties in the past year.

Karl Rove, who was still serving in the White House as Bush’s deputy chief of staff, took notes. But the meeting, which lasted 45 minutes, was not logged on the president’s schedule.

“I urged Bush to take action against the Iranian nuclear facilities and explained why I thought there was no alternative,” said Podhoretz, 77, in an interview with The Sunday Times.

“I laid out the worst-case scenario – bombing Iran – versus the worst-case consequences of allowing the Iranians to get the bomb.”

He also told Bush: “You have the awesome responsibility to prevent another holocaust. You’re the only one with the guts to do it.” The president looked very solemn, Podhoretz said.

For the most part Bush simply listened, although he and Rove both laughed when Podhoretz mentioned giving “futility its chance”, a phrase used by his fellow neoconservative, Robert Kagan, about the usefulness of pursuing United Nations sanctions against Iran.

“He gave not the slightest indication of whether he agreed with me, but he listened very intently,” Podhoretz said.

He is convinced, however, that “George Bush will not leave office with Iran having acquired a nuclear weapon or having passed the point of no return” – a reference to the Iranians’ acquisition of sufficient technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

The UN security council, facing deadlock with Russia and China, agreed on Friday to give Iran until November to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about its nuclear programme.

But the NeoCons and BushCo. have now been forced to deal with the reality of 'No Iran War' dissidence and mutiny within the most senior ranks of the American military :

Admiral William Fallon, US commander in the Middle East, said last week that the “constant drumbeat of war is not helpful”. But he added that the pressure on Iran would continue: “We have a very, very robust capability in the region, especially in comparison to Iran. That is one of the things people might like to keep in mind.”

All this follows the recent dramatic news that US Vice President, Dick Cheney, had considered how to provoke Iran into attacking Israel, so the US could then move to attack Iran under the cover of 'protecting' Israel.

These people are sick, truly demented.

NeoCons Want 'What Iran Did Wrong' Dossiers To Justify Air Strikes Against Teheran

US Trains Gulf Air Forces For War On Iran

Jewish Community In Iran Slam Anti-Ahmadinejad Protests And Columbia University 'Ambush'

Iranian President : We Don't Have Nuclear Weapons And We Are Not On A Path Towards War With US

US Rejects Iranian Pledge To Help Unite Iraq, Stop Violence

Iran Labels CIA Terrorist Organisation

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bush Refused Saddam's Exile Offer

$1 Billion 'Exit Fee' Versus $1 Trillion War

Why Saddam wanted to go into exile...

For the more open-eyed, and open-minded, watchers of the Iraq War, the news that President Bush turned down Saddam Hussein's offer to go into exile, months before the Iraq War began, is hardly breaking news. Arch NeoCon, and key Iraq War cheerleader Richard Perle acknowledged before the war began that he was involved in negotiations regarding Saddam Hussein's offer to go into exile.

But BushCo. wanted the Iraq War, and they were going to go to war regardless of what Saddam Hussein did or did not do.

A story from the UK Daily Mail, claims Saddam Hussein wanted $1 billion to go into exile. But, back in early 2003, BushCo. refused. The War On Iraq was a go. How could it be stopped? The stock price for Boeing and Raytheon was climbing in anticipation of all the new 'defence' contracts to come.

$1 billion is a lot, but it's nothing compared to the $1.2 trillion bill the United States is already racking up in going to War On Iraq. And it's a small chunk of the more than $8 billion the United States "lost track of" in Iraq, when tons of cash was literally forklifted off the back of planes, before going missing.

War is first, and above all, a business. And business has never been so good for the American, Australian, British and Israeli war industries now supplying bullets, bombs, helicopter gun ships and other (some experimental) assorted human-slaying devices to the 'free fire' weapons range that is now Iraq.

Saddam going into exile in late February, 2003, would have made justifying the 'War On Iraq' all but impossible for President Bush, especially considering he failed to get a second resolution from the United Nations, and more than 10 million people around the world were marching in opposition.

The new revelations also render President Bush's demands that Saddam leave Iraq, only two days before the war began, to be nothing more than an utterly cynical, disgusting last ditch attempt to try and claim the moral high ground for an horrific, unprovoked war on an all but defenceless people. A large number of whom were children, many of whom are now dead. Or dying.

Go Here For The Full Story

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cheney Wanted Israel To Provoke Iran Into War

Dick Cheney is cited in Newsweek as having concocted a plan where Israel would be encouraged to attack Iran's nuclear energy facilities, in the hope that Iran would strike back at Israel.

The United States would then be able to come to the defense of its key Middle East ally and attack Iran, leading to a full scale war :
Citing two unnamed sources (Newsweek) called knowledgeable, the magazine quoted David Wurmser, until last month Cheney's Middle East advisor, as having told a small group of people that "Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz - and perhaps other sites - in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out."

According to the report, "The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran."

Newsweek said that it had corroborated Wurmser's remarks, which it said were first published by Washington foreign-policy blogger Steven Clemons.

This sounds very reminiscent of the plan by President Bush, in January, 2003, to fly planes dressed up as UN aircraft over Iraq in the hope that Saddam's military would shoot them down. Bush is claimed to have told British prime minister Tony Blair that this would make for the kind of international incident, and act of aggression by Saddam Hussein, that would help to legitamise President Bush and the NeoCons plan to invade and occupy Iraq.

An interesting side effect of Cheney's plan being made public has been rising tide of anger and disgust amongst the younger population of Israel, who clearly are aware that the Israeli Defence Force, majority compromised of Israelis under the age of 24, would be the main targets for a counter attack by Iran after the initial air strikes.

It will be hard for the Israeli government, and the Zionist-influenced media of Israel, to quiet the outrage spreading via internet news sites and blogs.

Conspiracy theories about the United States is willing to sacrifice Israel to win a wider war in the Middle East, and to secure oil reserves for decades to come, have already taken root amongst the 'wired' youth.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bush Refuses To Comment On Israel's Strike On Syria

Israel Claims It Shared Syrian "Nukes" Data With White House Before Air Strikes

This is the first time I've ever seen President Bush retreat to the "No Comment" sideline when he's been questioned on an issue, particularly a controversial one. He's walked away from tough questions he doesn't want to answer, he's lied, he's waffled and rambled, sometimes for 20 minutes off one single question, but I don't think he's ever attempted the kind of stone-walling that this "no comment" throws up. That Bush goes for "no comment" on a question about why Israel supposedly launched airstrikes inside Syria makes his reaction even more interesting :

Q Sir, Israeli opposition leader Netanyahu has now spoken openly about Israel's bombing raid on a target in Syria earlier in the month. I wonder if you could tell us what the target was, whether you supported this bombing raid, and what do you think it does to change the dynamic in an already hot region in terms of Syria and Iran and the dispute with Israel and whether the U.S. could be drawn into any of this?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?

Q Did you support it?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to comment on the matter.

Q Can you comment about your concerns that come out of it at all, about for the region?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Saying I'm not going to comment on the matter means I'm not going to comment on the matter.

The story of why Israel attacked targets inside Syria boils down to a rising tide of allegations that Syria had taken possession of nuclear technology, or weapons, from North Korea. They arrived via boat, Israel tracked the movement of the nuclear cargo inside Syria, alerted the White House, the White House supposedly offered no reaction, and then Israel went ahead and launched an air strike or two. At least, that's how the story is now growing in the mainstream media. Here's the Washington Post's take on what happened :
Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

The Bush administration has not commented on the Israeli raid or the underlying intelligence. Although the administration was deeply troubled by Israel's assertion that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran, sources said, the White House opted against an immediate response because of concerns it would undermine long-running negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence before Israel proceeded with the raid, which hit the Syrian facility in the dead of night to minimize possible casualties, the sources said.

The target of Israel's attack was said to be in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. A Middle East expert who interviewed one of the pilots involved said they operated under such strict operational security that the airmen flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know the details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said. Syrian authorities said there were no casualties.

The fact that Bush refuses to even comment on what is quickly becoming an international issue may well mean that the 'Israel Hits Syria's North Korean Nukes' story is true. Or it may mean that Bush is playing along with a pre-set media campaign that will help to justify Israel's violation of Syrian airspace.

The truth of what happened remains somewhat murky. Expect it to get only more murky.

Neocons Have Syria In Their Sights

Syria tells IAEA : Israeli Nukes Sparking Arms Race

Israel, US Shared Data On Suspected Syrian Nuclear Site

A Dangerous Game Of Bluff - Iran Convinced US Can't Cope With Another War

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

US Military Launches 'Cyber Command'

It's a new and highly profitable front in world warfare.

From AFP :
The US Air Force established a provisional Cyber Command Tuesday as part of an expanding mission to prepare for wars in cyberspace, officials said.

The move comes amid concerns over the vulnerability of the US communications and computer networks to cyber attack in a conflict, as well as the military's desire to exploit the new medium.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne announced the creation of the new command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where the air force's existing cyber warfare operations are centered.

Officials said the provisional command will pave the way within a year for the creation of the air force's first major command devoted to cyberwarfare operations.

The full Air Force Cyber Command "will train and equip forces to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations," said Major General Charles Ickes.

The US 8th Air Force, headquartered at Barksdale, will continue to conduct day-to-day cyber operations until the Cyber Command is fully operational, officials said.

China, Russia Oppose Military Action On Iran

The Neocons want War On Iran. They want to destabilise Iran, sow chaos amongst its people, control its oil and reduce Iran to the shattered state status now suffered by the people of Iraq.

BushCo. say they want peace with Iran, but refuse to rule out military action. But both the US and Israel have laid out their chief reason why they will attack Iran : they cannot allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran isn't pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran says it isn't pursuing nuclear weapons. But the Neocon think tanks and media allies continually state that Iran wants nuclear weapons and it is so close to developing them that the world cannot wait.

But what you don't hear so much in the Western media is the reaction from China and Russia. Both China and Russia are now key financial, business and energy allies with Iran. And both China and Russia have clearly stated over the past two years, repeatedly that Iran does not pose a threat and that they will not tolerate attacks on Iran from either Israel or the United States.

From Reuters :
China is opposed to threatening Iran with war over its nuclear program and stands for a diplomatic solution, a government spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China have backed two rounds of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and other sensitive work that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

"We believe the best option is to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations, which is in the common interests of the international community," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular briefing.

"We do not approve of easily resorting to threatening use of force in international affairs," Jiang said when asked to comment on remarks by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner raising the prospect of war with Iran.

Kouchner said on Sunday that Paris must prepare for the possibility of war with Tehran, although it was not an immediate danger.

Washington is leading a drive in the Security Council for a third sanctions resolution to punish Iran for enrichment, and White House spokesman Dana Perino said the United States was looking for a diplomatic solution.

China is one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

From the UK Guardian :
Russia today joined the chorus of concern at the possibility of war in Iran while conflicts continued in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At a news briefing in Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said: "We are worried by reports that there is serious consideration being given to military action in Iran. That is a threat to a region where there are already grave problems in Iraq and Afghanistan."

His comments, after a meeting with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, followed a stark warning yesterday from the UN's chief nuclear weapons inspector aimed at the US.

"I would not talk about any use of force," Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters at the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna. "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons."

Fears of a military conflict with Iran rose a notch after comments on Sunday night by Mr Kouchner, who said: "We have to prepare for the worst ... the worst is war."

In addition, reports from Washington indicate that administration hawks led by the vice-president, Dick Cheney, are winning the argument for tough action against Tehran.

The US has accused Iran of supplying Shia extremists in Iraq with explosive devices that are taking a deadly toll on American troops.

France, under its new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has adopted a much tougher line on Iran, saying that a nuclear-armed Iran poses a dangerous threat to the west.

Mr Sarkozy last month called the Iranian stand-off "the greatest crisis" of current times, saying the world faced "a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran".

Mr Kouchner told reporters in Moscow that the world should not shy away from sanctions to put pressure on Iran.

"The worst thing to happen would be a war, and in order to avoid it we need to continue talks and be firm enough regarding sanctions," he said. "We have to work on precise sanctions that would demonstrate the world community's serious approach to this problem."

But Russia is trying to cool down the situation. In an interview published in the Russian magazine Vremya Novostei, the deputy foreign minister, Alexander Losyukov, said any military intervention in Iran would be a "political error" with catastrophic results.

"We are convinced that there is no military solution to the Iranian problem ... besides, it is quite clear that there is no military solution to the Iraqi problem either," he said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

BushCo. Warned Over Aggressive Stance Over Iranian Nuclear Programs

War On Iran : US Finds Ally In France

French Minister Says 'Prepare For War'

The United States under BushCo. and France under the control of NeoCons are firming up as allies in a growing state of near-war on Iran.

Many commentators in the US are now saying the American people are being prepared, through a co-ordinated and highly inflammatory media campaign running from vice president Dick Cheney's office, for a series of pre-emptive strikes on Iran's nuclear energy installations and facilities.

Israel says Iran is a greater threat than Iraq ever was, and so the United States must do as they're told.

Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons, hasn't invaded or directly attacked another country in centuries and has one of the most American-influenced cultures in the entire Middle East, particularly amongst its youth.

But if the US or Israel, or the US and Israel and France, go to war on Iran, it seems likely that most of the nation's youth will rise against the "infidels". They may enjoy American TV and music and fashion, but the deeply religious and nationalistic youth are unlikely to tolerate deadly acts of aggression from the NeoCons.

The idea that the US, or Israel, could fly in, hit a hundred targets and then everything would settle down is insanity.

If the US and/or Israel and/or France attack Iran in the coming year, you will no need no further proof that the NeoCon mission in the Middle East is to sew chaos, death and destruction rather than the spreading of liberty and democracy.

China and Russia, who both have hundreds of billions of dollars in business and state interests in Iran have threatened in the past to retaliate against any nation that attacks Iran.

From the UK Guardian :
The head of the UN's nuclear agency today warned against increasing "hype" towards war with Iran, saying countries should heed the lessons of the build-up to the Iraq conflict.

The strongly worded comments by Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), follow a warning by the French foreign minister that the world should brace itself for a possible war with Iran.

"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," Bernard Kouchner told French TV and radio.

While talks over Iran's controversial nuclear programme should continue "right to the end", Mr Kouchner said, an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose "a real danger for the whole world". Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, France has taken a much harsher line towards Iran than under Jacques Chirac.

In a perceived riposte to the comments, Mr ElBaradei urged caution. "We need to be cool," he told reporters at the IAEA's annual conference in Vienna. "We need not to hype the issue".

"I would not talk about any use of force," he said. "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 70,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons."

The comments come at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the US, which has stepped up accusations of Iranian support for Shia militias targeting US forces in Iraq.

Washington is also seeking a third round of UN sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop uranium enrichment, and has accused the country of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has rejected those charges, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, including generating electricity.

At today's meeting in Vienna, Iran's vice-president warned the US and others against provoking a confrontation.

Western nations had "proved that you cannot tolerate the addition of independent states and developing countries to the ongoing movement of those seeking to achieve ownership of modern technology", said Reza Aghazadeh, who also heads Iran's nuclear agency.

"The great nation of Iran has recorded your discriminatory behaviour and performance in its memory and will not forget," he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Separately, however, the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he wanted peace and friendship with Washington, despite mounting speculation over possible US strikes.

"Our message to the American nation is a message of peace, friendship, brotherhood and respect for humans," the official IRNA news agency quoted Mr Ahmadinejad as saying on the state-owned Jame Jam television network yesterday.

There'll be no more snarky comments from hawkish Republicans about "freedom fries" and "surrender monkeys" when they start talking up the "bravery" and "support" France is now showing for BushCo.'s increasingly aggressive stance towards Iran :

France followed up a warning that the Iran nuclear crisis could lead to war by calling on Monday for European sanctions against Tehran.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said tensions with Iran are now "extreme", heightening a diplomatic storm caused by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's warning on Sunday that the world should prepare for a conflict over Iran's alleged work on a nuclear weapon.

Kouchner met his Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen in Paris and said European countries should prepare their own non-UN sanctions.

"These would be European sanctions that each country, individually, must put in place with its own banking, commercial and industrial system. The English and the Germans are interested in talking about this. We will try to find a common European position," Kouchner said.

On Sunday, Kouchner used the toughest language to date from a French minister, warning that "we have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war." If Tehran possessed an atomic weapon, it would be a "real danger for the whole world," he said in an interview.

Speaking Monday, the French prime minister said: "The Iranians must understand that tension has reached an extreme point... in the relationship between Iran and its neighbours."

He added however that "a confrontation with Iran is the last option that any political leader would want."

Iran insists its nuclear work is peaceful and Vice President Reza Aghazadeh, who is also head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI), warned the West against seeking a confrontation.

Western countries "have always chosen the path of confrontation instead of the path of understanding and cordial relations toward the great nation of Iran," he told the UN meeting in Vienna.

"The great nation of Iran has recorded your discriminatory behavior and performance in its memory and will not forget," Aghazadeh said.

In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a statement: "It seems that the French foreign minister has forgotten the policy of the European Union" with his war warning.

"The use of such words creates tensions and is contrary to the cultural history and civilisation of France," he added.

The IAEA director general also said that force should not be used yet to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

"We need always to remember that use of force could only be resorted to when ... every other option has been exhausted. I don't think we are at all there," ElBaradei told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, at which he expressed regret at Iran's refusal to fall in line with UN resolutions.

Instead Of Coming Home, British Troops Told To Move To The Iranian Border

US NATO Commander Claims More Weapons From Iran Seized

US Accuses Iran Over Iraq Attacks

'War' Talk Heightens Iranian Nuclear Dispute

US Defense Secretary : "All Options Are On The Table"

BushCo. Set Up America For War On Iran

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The War That Just Won't End

Bush Reveals Iraq Exit Plan : "Based On Conditions Of Progress"

Americans Don't Trust BushCo. To Tell The Truth About The Iraq War

It's the Iraq Exit Plan that isn't.

On Thursday, President Bush is expected to announce that by mid-2008 the United States will have substantially cut the number of troops it has in Iraq, from 160,000 to 130,000. Or back to pre-"surge" numbers. But it's conditions-based, progress-based of course. So it's meaningless. BushCo. decides if the conditions are right, or if enough progress has been made to warrant troop withdrawals. There can be little doubt that General Petraeus is now firmly in the ranks of BushCo.

If BushCo. decides early next year that Iraq still needs American troops to stay, then the troops will stay. The only cut in troop numbers will come from the fact that the US is running out of fresh troops to send into the war zone, and that shortfall is expected to really start to bite by mid-2008 :

In a 15-minute address from the White House, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their appearance at two days of hearings in Congress, administration officials said. The White House plans to issue a written status report on the troop buildup on Friday, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush's speech is not yet final. Bush was rehearsing and polishing his remarks even as the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker were presenting their arguments for a second day on Capitol Hill.

In the speech, the president will say he understands Americans' deep concerns about U.S. involvement in Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they said. Bush will say that, after hearing from Petraeus and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will reduce the U.S. military presence but not abandon Iraq to chaos, according to the officials.

Both Democrat and Republican senators subjected General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to hours of withering questions during two days of House and Senate hearings, but the pair stuck firmly to the BushCo. script, almost without falter :
The two top American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq conceded today that the Bush administration’s overall strategy in Iraq would remain largely unchanged after the surge in American forces is over next summer, and they made clear their view that the United States would need a major troop presence in Iraq for years to come.

Facing a day of withering questions from two Senate committees, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker were unable to argue that the heightened troop levels had made more than fragile and transitory progress. Nor could they reassure senators that American efforts could help forge political compromise among battling sectarian groups.

The clashes over war strategy were more intense and emotional than had unfolded the previous days in the House, reflecting the powerful passions and ambitions of a Senate that includes five presidential aspirants. Some exchanges in the Hart Senate Office Building today struck a tone not heard on Capitol Hill in 40 years, since Gen. William C. Westmoreland defended the American approach to defeating North Vietnam.

In responding to General Petraeus’ recommendations, the White House said President Bush would address the nation at 9 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday. Mr. Bush is expected to endorse the call for no more than a gradual troop drawdown in coming months, one that would leave some 130,000 American troops in Iraq by next summer.

But Democratic leaders issued a pre-emptive attack on that approach this afternoon, with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, emerging from a White House meeting to denounce the president’s approach as “an insult to the intelligence of the American people.”

As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker wound up two days of grueling testimony to the House and Senate, Mrs. Pelosi said everything she had heard S “sounds to me like a 10-year, at least, commitment to an open-ended presence and war.”

Democrats who were briefed on the White House meeting said Mrs. Pelosi had told Mr. Bush that much of the public would be shocked at the prospect of an undefined, long-term presence in Iraq. They said the president acknowledged that he foresaw an extended involvement in Iraq and was backed by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who said the nation had made a commitment to the region.

The recommendation by General Petraeus calls for the step-by-step withdrawal between now and next July of the 30,000 additional forces that Mr. Bush has sent to Iraq as part of a increase in forces that he announced in January. But that leaves open the question that permeated the heated discussions in the Senate today about whether keeping the remaining 130,000 troops would serve a purpose.

“Buy time?” asked an angry Senator Chuck Hagel, the Republican from Nebraska who announced Monday he would retire from the Senate next year. “For what?”

General Petraeus, pressed first by Senator Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who is under tremendous pressure to abandon her lukewarm support for Mr. Bush’s war strategy, and then by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, conceded that he would be “hard-pressed” to justify America’s presence in Iraq if there is no political progress in Iraq over the next year.

Senator John W. Warner, the Republican of Virginia who is one of the party’s leading voices on foreign policy, asked whether the current strategy in Iraq is “making America safer.” General Petraeus first retreated to an explanation that he is doing his best “to achieve our objectives in Iraq.”

But when pressed again, he said: “Sir, I don’t know, actually.”

Both the general and the ambassador, who in the past have talked expansively about the regional and global effects of the Iraq war, stayed narrowly in their lanes of expertise today and stepped around repeated questions about whether a series of tactical victories in Anbar Province or some neighborhoods of Baghdad could be transferred into a broader agreement that would end a state of civil war.

Nor would they be drawn into any estimates of how many more years a major American troop presence would be required — or even when the oft-promised training of Iraqi troops would be complete enough to allow Americans to step into the background.

On just how many gains have really been made through the more than half year long troop "surge", the picture may be slightly less bleak in Baghdad, but across Iraq, not much has changed, according to the New York Times.

But many of the Petraeus claims that 'mixed' neighbourhoods in Baghdad are suffering less violence on the whole become even less impressive when you realise that many Sunni families have been driven out, literally, hundreds of thousands of people in the past three years, which leaves less targets for Shia militias :
Seven months after the American-led troop “surge” began, Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government.

Improvements have been made. American military figures show that sectarian killings in Baghdad have decreased substantially. In many of Baghdad’s most battle-scarred areas, including Mansour in the west and Ur in the east, markets and parks that were practically abandoned last year have begun to revive.

The surge has also coincided with and benefited from a dramatic turnaround in many Sunni areas where former insurgents and tribes have defected from supporting violent extremism, delivering reliable tips and helping the Americans find and eliminate car bomb factories. An average of 23 car bombs a month struck Baghdad in June, July and August, down from an average of 42 over the same period a year earlier.

But the overall impact of those developments, so far, has been limited. And in some cases the good news is a consequence of bad news: people in neighborhoods have been “takhalasu” — an Iraqi word for purged, meaning killed or driven away. More than 35,000 Iraqis have left their homes in Baghdad since the American troop buildup began, aid groups reported.

The hulking blast walls that the Americans have set up around many neighborhoods have only intensified the city’s sense of balkanization. Merchants must now hire a different driver for individual areas, lest gunmen kill a stranger from another sect to steal a truckload of T-shirts.

To study the full effects of the troop increase at ground level, reporters for The New York Times repeatedly visited at least 20 neighborhoods in Baghdad and its surrounding belts, interviewing more than 150 residents, in addition to members of sectarian militias, Americans patrolling the city and Iraqi officials.

They found that the additional troops had slowed, but far from stopped, Iraq’s still-burning civil war. Baghdad remains a city where sectarian violence can flare at any moment, and where the central government is becoming less reliable and relevant as Shiite or Sunni vigilantes demand submission to their own brand of law.

The troop increase was meant to create conditions that could lead from improved security in Baghdad to national reconciliation to a strong central government to American military withdrawal. In recent weeks, President Bush and his commanders have shifted their emphasis to new alliances with tribal leaders that have improved security in Diyala Province, the Sunni Triangle and other Sunni areas, most notably Anbar Province.

That area, not Baghdad, was the one Mr. Bush conspicuously chose to visit this week.

But when he announced on Jan. 10 his plan to add 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush emphasized that Baghdad was the linchpin for creating a stable Iraq. With less fear of death in the capital, “Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas,” he said.

That has not happened. More than 160,000 American troops are now in Iraq to help secure 25 million people. Across Baghdad — which undoubtedly remains a crucial barometer — American and Iraqi forces have moved closer to the population, out of giant bases and into 29 joint security stations. But even as some neighborhoods have improved, others have worsened as fighters moved to areas with fewer American troops.

The View From Baghdad On The Troop "Surge" : Reality On The Ground For Iraqis Makes A Mockery Of American Optimism

One Day In Iraq : 13 American GIs, 77 Iraqis Killed

Washington : Among Top Officials, "Surge" Has Sparked Months Of Clashes, Infighting

Iraqi Reporter Claims Baghdad Is "100 Times Worse" Than 12 Months Ago

Northern Iraq Battles Cholera Epidemic

Soldiers On The Ground In Iraq Go Online With War Videos

Why The Iraqis Turned On 'Al Qaeda' - Anatomy Of A Tribal Revolt

The War Over The War : Petraeus Claims Iran 'Exerting Influence'

US Seeks Pact With al-Sadr's Militia

Monday, September 10, 2007

Al Qaeda In Europe - Terror Propaganda And Thirst For Vengeance Prove To Be Powerful Recruiting Tools

The UK Observer's Jason Burke, one of the more level-headed and analytical writers on Al Qaeda, takes a solid look at the spread of Al Qaeda ideology and recruitment across Europe, and how young Muslim men, fired up on Al Qaeda propaganda, find their way to Pakistan to complete their training, before returning home. But a disturbing new trend has emerged, and Burke digs deep and uncovers a trove of new information - young European men are converting to Islam and quickly traveling down the indoctrination road towards violent jihad :

The Observer has learnt that senior Islamic militant leaders based in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan have decided to step up attacks in Europe. This summer, European intelligence agencies issued a series of warnings about attacks orchestrated from what one source last week called 'the Grand Central station of jihad': the lawless tribal-run regions on Pakistan's western borders with Afghanistan.

Though the most recent alleged terrorist plot in Britain - the so-called 'Doctors' Plot' of June - did not involve any confirmed links to Pakistan, many other high-profile attacks or attempted attacks have done so. Key figures in the 7 July bombings and the plot, uncovered by the police's Operation Crevice, to bomb targets in south-east England with fertiliser bombs trained in camps along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Osama bin Laden and his close associates are believed to be hiding in the area - it is thought that the video released yesterday by al-Qaeda and featuring their leader was filmed there - as are a range of other militant leaders from countries as far apart as Libya and Uzbekistan. Bin Laden's video was titled, in English, 'an address to the American people'.

'America remains the number one target, but is hard to hit. If they could get on a plane and arrive in Cincinnati, they would. But they can't, so Europe is the next best option,' the source said.

Striking Europe serves other purposes too: militants hope that a successful attack on a western country that has troops deployed in Afghanistan might force a government to pull them out from the fight against the Taliban, helping Afghan fighters whose relations with the international militants based in the region are often tense. Equally, bombs in London, Frankfurt or Madrid have a powerful propaganda effect on Muslims in the Middle East and in central and south-west Asia, which have always been the 'core audience' for al-Qaeda and other groups. Finally, anything that can be done to further a 'dynamic of confrontation' in Europe is helpful.

'The militants know that tens of millions of happily integrated European Muslims is a big problem for them and that a massive upsurge of radicalisation of Europe's Muslims is a huge problem for us,' said a second, US-based, intelligence source. 'The best way to rile things up and set communities against each other is to have bombs going off left, right and centre.

'Ten years ago there was no real homegrown terrorism problem in western Europe. Now there is. The militants see that as a major achievement and something to build on. They have limited resources so are looking to maximise the return on any investment,' the US source said.

This weekend, Germans are agonising over the possibility that the nation's three million Muslims, hitherto largely untouched by the sort of radicalism seen in Britain and France, has been affected by the al-Qaeda ideology and global tensions. Along with a second convert, the third suspect arrested last week is a Turkish immigrant.

However, many analysts insist that seeing Pakistan as 'the source of all evil' is not right. They stress that the volunteers are radicalised at home and make their way to the camps 'under their own steam'. This means that militants simply exploit 'the raw material'. One intelligence source described the targeting of attacks as 'opportunistic'.

Current analysis is that the bulk of the volunteers in the region are south Asian or Arab and will be sent into action in the primary local theatre, which is Afghanistan. Equally, volunteers with Western passports will BE exploited as particularly valuable assets, and will be turned around and sent back to their countries of origin to commit attacks or develop networks. Britain is particularly vulnerable in this regard because of the historic links it has with Pakistan and the large Muslim population of Pakistani origin.

At least seven Germans and 18 individuals with British nationality are currently detained in Pakistan. Bin Laden has threatened virtually every western European country - making an exception for Sweden - in communications over recent years. In the most recent video, released on Friday, he referred specifically to the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The alleged plot uncovered last week in Germany is doubly worrying as it involves both 'homegrown' suspects and converts. Germany has only seen a handful of conspiracies before: it was the staging ground for the 9/11 hijackers and the scene of a failed attempt to detonate bombs on trains last year, allegedly by two Lebanese men. This was believed to be an initiation test aimed at proving their ability before travelling to Iraq. Until last week, most Germans believed the threat to their nation to be relatively low.

Converts have already figured significantly in terrorism in Europe, comprising 8 per cent of militants arrested in Europe according to a recent survey by Dutch analysts. In Britain, one of the 7 July bombers was a convert, as was Richard Reid, the 'shoe bomber' in prison in America for attempting to blow up a transatlantic jet in 2001.

Converts have also been bit players in conspiracies in the Netherlands and America. A US-born convert is believed to be based in Pakistan playing a key role in al-Qaeda's propaganda.

According to some recent studies of militancy, converts are also more likely to be radicalised. 'Converts have played a prominent role... and tend to be the most zealous members of groups,' a recent report by the New York Police Department noted. 'Their need to prove their religious convictions to their companions often makes them the most aggressive [and] conversion also tends to drive a wedge between the convert and his [natural] family, turning the radicalising group into his 'surrogate family'.'

Four thousand Germans converted last year, compared with just 1,000 in 2005, according to government statistics, bringing the total of Muslim converts in the country to 15,000.

British security services have taken a particular interest in converts. The large number of Islamic militants who convert in prisons is of deep concern to them. 'Converts are a very important sub-group,' one security source told The Observer. 'We see this starting out as a social problem, with people looking for a meaning in their life. This is not a Muslim issue.'

Pakistan - The New Al Qaeda Central

Al Qaeda-Linked Group Kills 28 In Algeria - Were Aiming For Algerian President

Iraq : US Bribe Insurgents To Fight Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda Leader Says The Killing Of Its Commanders Will Not Stop Its Worldwide War Against "The Infidels"

Organised Al Qaeda Now Flexing Its Media Arms Muscles

Jason Burke : 'Islamism' Has No Place In Terror's Lexicon

Sunday, September 09, 2007

How The 'Good War' In Afghanistan Turned Bad

A lengthy, but thorough investigative story from the New York Times explaining how and why the Bush administration all but abandoned the war against the Taliban in early 2002, pulling out special forces and intelligence operatives to focus on the coming War On Iraq.

The US Military and intelligence services were aghast at leaving the battlefield before the true war had even begun. While the US was focused on Iraq, Al Qaeda and the Taliban re-armed, re-trained and formed new ties, sharing intelligence and fighters in the borderlands of Pakistan.

By the time American attention turned back to Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were close to retaking the capital, Kabul, and held control of vast stretches of the barren wasteland and mountainous regions that make up so much of the country.

The New York Times story also looks at how the US 'War on Terror', under Bush and Rumsfeld, finally turned its attention back to Afghanistan, in 2004 :

A year after the Taliban fell to an American-led coalition, a group of NATO ambassadors landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, to survey what appeared to be a triumph — a fresh start for a country ripped apart by years of war with the Soviets and brutal repression by religious extremists.

With a senior American diplomat, R. Nicholas Burns, leading the way, they thundered around the country in Black Hawk helicopters, with little fear for their safety. They strolled quiet streets in Kandahar and sipped tea with tribal leaders. At a briefing from the United States Central Command, they were told that the Taliban were now a “spent force.”

“Some of us were saying, ‘Not so fast,’ ” Mr. Burns, now the under secretary of state for political affairs, recalled. “A number of us assumed that the Taliban was too enmeshed in Afghan society to just disappear as a political and military force.”

But that skepticism never took hold in Washington. Assessments by the Central Intelligence Agency circulating at the same time reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports. The American sense of victory was so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan were packing their guns and preparing for the next war, in Iraq.

Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

They have scored some successes recently, and since the 2001 invasion, there have been improvements in health care and education, as well as the quality of life in the cities. But Afghanistan’s embattled president, Hamid Karzai, said in Washington last week that security in his country had “definitely deteriorated.” One former national security official called that “a very diplomatic understatement.”

At critical moments in the fight for Afghanistan, the Bush administration diverted scarce intelligence and reconstruction resources to Iraq, including elite C.I.A. teams and Special Forces units involved in the search for terrorists. As sophisticated Predator drone spy planes rolled off assembly lines in the United States, they were shipped to Iraq, undercutting the search for Taliban and terrorist leaders, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

As defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed credit for toppling the Taliban with light, fast forces. But in a move that foreshadowed America’s trouble in Iraq, he failed to anticipate the need for more forces after the old government was gone, and blocked an early proposal from Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, and Mr. Karzai, the administration’s handpicked president, for a large international force. As the situation deteriorated, Mr. Rumsfeld and other administration officials reversed course and cajoled European allies into sending troops.

When it came to reconstruction, big goals were announced, big projects identified. Yet in the year Mr. Bush promised a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, the country received less assistance per capita than did postconflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even desperately poor Haiti, according to a RAND Corporation study.

By late last year, when the United States began increasing troop levels in Afghanistan to the current level of 23,500, a senior American military commander in the country said he was surprised to discover that “I could count on the fingers of one or two hands the number of U.S. government agricultural experts” in Afghanistan, where 80 percent of the economy is agricultural. A $300 million project approved by Congress for small businesses in Afghanistan was never financed by the administration.

Underlying many of the decisions, officials say, was a misapprehension about what Americans would find on the ground in Afghanistan. “The perception was that Afghans hated foreigners and that the Iraqis would welcome us,” said James Dobbins, the administration’s former special envoy for Afghanistan. “The reverse turned out to be the case.”

In October 2002, Robert Grenier, a former director of the C.I.A.’s counterintelligence center, visited the new Kuwait City headquarters of Lt. Gen David McKiernan, who was already planning the Iraq invasion. Meeting in a sheet metal warehouse, Mr. Grenier asked General McKiernan what his intelligence needs would be in Iraq.

The answer was simple. “They wanted as much as they could get,” Mr. Grenier said.

Throughout late 2002 and early 2003, Mr. Grenier said in an interview, “the best experienced, most qualified people who we had been using in Afghanistan shifted over to Iraq,” including the agency’s most skilled counterterrorism specialists and Middle East and paramilitary operatives.

That reduced the United States’ influence over powerful Afghan warlords who were refusing to turn over to the central government tens of millions of dollars they had collected as customs payments at border crossings.

While the C.I.A. replaced officers shifted to Iraq, Mr. Grenier said, it did so with younger agents, who lacked the knowledge and influence of the veterans. “I think we could have done a lot more on the Afghan side if we had more experienced folks,” he said.

A former senior official of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which was running both wars, said that as the Iraq planning sped up, the military’s covert Special Mission Units, like Delta Force and Navy Seals Team Six, shifted to Iraq from Afghanistan.

So did aerial surveillance “platforms” like the Predator, a remotely piloted drone armed with Hellfire missiles that had been effective at identifying targets in the sparsely populated mountains of Afghanistan. Predators were not shifted directly from Afghanistan to Iraq, according to the former official, but as new Predators were produced, they went to Iraq.

“We were economizing in Afghanistan,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “The marginal return for one more platform in Afghanistan is so much greater than for one more in Iraq.”

The shift in priorities became apparent to Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s former comptroller, when Mr. Rumsfeld called him into his office in the fall of 2002, as planning for the Iraq war was in high gear, and asked him to serve as the Pentagon’s reconstruction coordinator in Afghanistan. It was an odd role for the comptroller, whose primary task is managing the Defense Department’s $400 billion a year budget.


Pakistani had backed the Taliban throughout the 1990s as a counterweight to an alliance of northern Afghan commanders backed by India, Pakistan’s bitter rival. Pakistani officials also distrusted Mr. Karzai.

Deciding that the Pakistanis would not act on the Taliban, Mr. Grenier said he urged them to concentrate on arresting Qaeda members, who he said were far more of a threat.

“From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force,” he said, adding that “we were very much focused on Al Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.”

But Mr. Khalilzad, American military officials and others in the administration argued that the Taliban were crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing American troops and aid workers. “Colleagues in Washington at various levels did not recognize that there was the problem of sanctuary and that this was important,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

But it was not until 2006, after ordering a study on Afghanistan’s future, that Mr. Bush pressed General Musharraf on the Taliban. Later, Mr. Bush told his aides he worried that “old school ties” between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban had not been broken, despite General Musharraf’s assurances.

The Pakistanis, said one senior American commander, were “hedging their bets.”

“They’re not sure that we are staying,” he added. “And if we are gone, the Taliban is their next best option” to remain influential in Afghanistan.

As 2005 ended, the Taliban leaders remained in hiding in Pakistan, waiting for an opportunity to cross the border. Soon, they would find one.

In September 2005, NATO defense ministers gathered in Berlin to complete plans for NATO troops to take over security in Afghanistan’s volatile south. It was the most ambitious “out of area” operations in NATO history, and across Europe, leaders worried about getting support from their countries. Then, American military officials dropped a bombshell.

The Pentagon, they said, was considering withdrawing up to 3,000 troops from Afghanistan, roughly 20 percent of total American forces.

NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he protested to Mr. Rumsfeld that a partial American withdrawal would discourage others from sending troops.

By February 2006, Mr. Neumann had come to the conclusion that the Taliban were planning a spring offensive, and he sent a cable to his superiors.

“I had a feeling that the view was too rosy in Washington,” recalled Mr. Neumann, who retired from the State Department in June. “I was concerned.”

Mr. Neumann’s cable proved prophetic. In the spring of 2006, the Taliban carried out their largest offensive since 2001, attacking British, Canadian and Dutch troops in southern Afghanistan.

Hundreds of Taliban swarmed into the south, setting up checkpoints, assassinating officials and burning schools. Suicide bombings quintupled to 136. Roadside bombings doubled. All told, 191 American and NATO troops died in 2006, a 20 percent increase over 2005. For the first time, it became nearly as dangerous, statistically, to serve as an American in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

Mr. Neumann said that while suicide bombers came from Pakistan, most Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan were Afghans. Captured insurgents said they took up arms because a local governor favored a rival tribe, corrupt officials provided no services or their families needed money.

In July 2006, NATO formally took responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan. To Americans and Europeans, NATO is the vaunted alliance that won the cold war. To Afghans it is little more than a strange, new acronym. And NATO and the Americans are divided over strategy.

In Washington, officials lament that NATO nations are unwilling to take the kinds of risks and casualties necessary to confront the Taliban. Across Europe, officials complain the United States never focused on reconstruction, and they blame American forces for mounting air attacks on the Taliban that cause large civilian casualties, turning Afghans against the West.

“Destroying the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was an extraordinary strategic accomplishment,” said Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council, “but where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not. We were going to face this long war in Afghanistan as long as we and the Afghan government couldn’t bring serious economic reconstruction to the countryside, and eliminate the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan.”

Read The Full Story Here

In Pockets Of Afghanistan, US Losing Ground

World Food Program Convoy Ambushed By Taliban On Motorbikes, 13 Militants Killed

Taliban Unrest Shuts Some 400 Schools Across Afghanistan

Most Taliban, Al Qaeda Suicide Bombers Trained In Pakistan

50 Taliban Killed In 48 Hours Of Fighting Across Southern Afghanistan

Rate Of Suicide Attacks Increased Seven Fold In 12 Months, Still Climbing

Britain Says They Are Winning Afghan Battles, But Not The War
Killer Robots Are Now Reality

The Future Of War

From Der Spiegel :

Robot warriors have already seen action in Iraq, and the US Army plans to replace one-third of its armored vehicles and weapons with robots by 2015. These killing machines may one day come equipped with an artificial conscience -- even to the extent of disobeying immoral orders.

The US Army's latest recruits are 1 meter (about 3 feet) tall, wear desert camouflage and are armed with black M249 machine guns. They also move on caterpillar tracks and -- thanks to five camera eyes -- can even see in the dark.

The fearless fighters are three robot soldiers who, unnoticed by the general public, were deployed in Iraq in mid-June, charged with hunting down insurgents. As if guided by an unseen hand, they hone in on their targets and fire at them with their machine guns. It's the future of war -- and it's already here.

"It's the first weaponized robot in the history of warfare," says Charles Dean, an engineer with Waltham, Massachusetts-based Foster-Miller, the manufacturer of the new devices. Dean and the 70 employees in his department are eager to find out how their three protégés are holding up on the front. Because the three robots, dubbed "Swords," are being used in a secret mission, their creators have no idea whether the devices have already killed enemy fighters in combat.

It seems only a matter of time before the three combat robots will get some reinforcements. The American military is currently testing the Gladiator, an unmanned mobile device developed by engineers at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gladiator weighs more than a ton and comes equipped with rubber tires that enable it to scurry up inclines of up to 60 percent. The US military has already mounted a targeting camera and a remote-controlled M240 machine gun on a prototype.

"We've already done plenty of shooting with the machine gun," says Col. Terry Griffin, who heads the joint US Army and Marine Corps robot program. If further tests are successful, a four-wheel version of the Gladiator could be headed for Iraq next year -- assuming US troops are still in the country.

According to Griffin, the combat robot is capable of disbanding groups of undesirables. There are three stages of escalation: First Gladiator issues warnings through a loudspeaker, then it fires rubber bullets and, finally, it starts firing its machine gun.

A New Kind of War

More than 50 years after author Isaac Asimov argued in his classic novel "I, Robot" that a robot should never be allowed to do harm to people, the development of automated killers has become unstoppable. Swords and Gladiator are the harbingers of a new type of warfare, in which killing will increasingly be left up to machines.

According to an internal US Army memo, armed machines "are making their way onto today's battlefields and will be extremely widespread on the battlefields of the future." The Pentagon's budget already includes up to $200 billion for a modernization program dubbed "Future Combat System." Under the program, robots will replace one third of armored vehicles and weapons by 2015.

Automated warfare is also making inroads in Israel, where the military deploys robots along the country's 60-kilometer (37-mile) border with the Gaza Strip. The stationary "See-Shoot" system developed by Rafael, an Israeli weapons manufacturer, includes machine guns and cameras, and has a range of 1,500 meters (4,921 feet).

From a military standpoint, there are many reasons to support the growing use of steel soldiers. For one, fear and fatigue are non-issues. Robots kill without hesitating and, unlike flesh-and-blood soldiers, losing them is merely a financial loss. A new Swords goes for about $150,000. Besides, politicians and generals no longer need to worry about a public outcry over excessive fatalities: Who mourns a fallen tin soldier?

Still in Control

However, human operators are still strictly in control of these mechanical soldiers. It will be a while before the humanoid murderers portrayed in Hollywood films like "Robocop" and "Terminator" will be unleashed on humanity. "But there are no scientific barriers standing in the way of autonomous combat robots," says Ronald Arkin of the Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology. "The parts of the whole are being assembled as we speak."

In his corner office, graying robotics expert Arkin investigates ways to prevent the grim scenarios of science fiction films from becoming reality. He is currently conducting an Internet survey in an attempt to determine how military officials, politicians, robotics researchers and ordinary citizens feel about autonomous killing machines.

What are the ethical rules these machines should follow when they are sent into war, for example? To help tackle the issue, Arkin is developing software that could be used to program the machines with such rules -- a sort of conscience for steel soldiers.

One of those machines, BigDog, provides a sense of how far robotics has come technologically. The headless device feels its way as it moves forward. A built-in computer and internal sensors ensure that BigDog remains firmly on all fours, even when given a firm kick in the side. The robot, developed by Boston Dynamics, will likely begin its military career as a packhorse.

At a show last week at Webster Field, a military base in Maryland, a craft with a diameter of only 33 centimeters (13 inches) could be seen flying through the air and landing on spring-like legs. US troops in Iraq are currently testing about 20 of these so-called Micro Air Vehicles, which are made by Honeywell Aerospace. The soldiers can either control the drone with a joystick or program it to run on automatic pilot. To do so, they call up a digital map of their surroundings on a computer screen and click on the target. The drone then uses GPS to locate the target.

An even more impressive device on display at Webster Field was a seven-meter (23-foot) helicopter called Fire Scout. Instead of a cockpit, the unmanned helicopter has a windowless face that covers a Cyclops-like eye: a laser device that enables Fire Scout to land on its own, even on the tight deck space available on smaller warships. Fire Scout, of which US manufacturer Northrop Grumman has only produced two prototypes, is still unarmed. But that too will change, says engineer Doug Fronius: "There are definite plans to integrate weapons into the system."

Northrop Grumman is also developing an unarmed stealth fighter, the X-47, which the company expects to perform its first fully automated landing on a moving aircraft carrier in 2011. "By removing the pilots, we enable the device to remain airborne for an additional 10 hours or more," says Tighe Parmenter of Northrop Grumman. "To program an enemy mission, all you need is a keyboard and a mouse." In early August the US Navy awarded the company a contract worth $635.8 million to develop the fighter drones.

In general, airborne robotic devices are the vanguard among military robots. Unmanned flying objects have been used in war zones for some time, mainly for reconnaissance, but also to deliver deadly weapons. The two missiles that killed Al-Qaida terrorist Mohammed Atef in November 2001 as he was traveling to Kabul by car were fired from a Predator drone.

Fatal Decisions

Regardless of whether robots hurtle through the air or serve as mechanical infantrymen on the ground, until now human operators have decided whether they are permitted to shoot. The fear that the machines could suddenly start letting loose on their own troops is still too great.

Before Swords fires its first salvo at terrorists in Iraq, it needs the permission of two human operators. A supervisor presses a button on his remote control, which makes the machine gun operational. At the same time, another soldier must activate two red switches on this control unit to allow the robot to begin shooting.

However, it is only logical that decisions over life and death will increasingly be transferred to the machine -- just as soon as engineers have figured out how to overcome the problem of distinguishing between friends and foes. The first device likely to be capable of making this distinction could be installed by as early as this year along the 248-kilometer (154-mile) demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

Samsung Techwin, a South Korean electronics firm, heads the consortium that developed the device, a black shooting robot. Equipped with video and ultrasound cameras, the robot can distinguish between trees and people and, according to Arkin, can independently open fire on anyone crossing the border illegally.

The Pentagon also wants to give the robots more freedom, arguing that the only way to enhance the fighting power of US troops is to enable a soldier to use several unmanned systems at the same time. This is only possible if the machines are allowed to make many of their decisions independently. According to a US Army document, both "lethal and non-lethal combat" could be possible as autonomous behavior.

The Future is Bright

The attack of the killer robots may sound like some macabre vision of the future. But robotics visionary Arkin also believes that there could be some positive aspects to the scenario. Contrary to many international treaties and declarations of intent, atrocities and human rights violations have always been part of wars in the past. A case in point is the torture scandal involving US troops at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Arkin believes that combat robots would not be tempted to commit such atrocities, thanks to their artificial conscience. "Robots could behave more humanely than human beings," he says. He plans to present a prototype of his morality software at a conference in September. Depending on the situation and its mission, a robot would select, from a wide range of options, the one action that it considers especially ethical -- even if it means refusing to obey a command.

Arkin also hopes that the mere presence of unmanned systems could make crises and conflicts more humane. Wherever their cameras are pointed, the robots create a record that could ultimately be open to public scrutiny. Soldiers can then expect everything they do to be captured on camera, an effective deterrent against those who seek to exact revenge and indulge their torture fantasies on prisoners.

Open Arms

In the meantime, the robots are being welcomed with open arms by their human fellow soldiers. The US Army will decide in October whether to deploy additional Swords robots in Iraq. If the soldiers had their way, they would get another 20 Swords, says Michael Zecca of the Picatinny Army Arsenal in New Jersey.

Soldiers are especially fond of the hundreds of unmanned robots that have been used for years as minesweepers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are credited with saving countless lives. The small tin soldiers are so valuable to the military that they are even promoted and decorated with medals. Whenever a mine detonates under one of the devices, soldiers prefer to repair the robot if at all possible, rather than have it replaced with a brand-new substitute.

At a military base in Yuma, Arizona, a colonel ordered soldiers to break off a test in which a robot was being repeatedly sent into a minefield -- because, so he said, it was inhumane.

Arkin sees an underestimated danger in this tendency among soldiers to anthropomorphize machines. In an extreme case, officers could become more attached to their robots than to the men and women they command. Then, so Arkin's tongue-in-cheek prediction, an officer might well issue an order like, "Tom, you go and see if the coast is clear -- the robot stays here!"