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Archive for October, 2010

Posted by Tom Engelhardt on October 14th, 2010

On January 1, 1970, when Noam Chomsky’s essay “After Pinkville” was first published in the New York Review of Books, reading was still an antiwar activity, and often a transformative one.  Books and articles changed minds, altered lives, helped you mobilize, and then keep going.  And it almost seemed that everyone who was doing anything was also writing about it.  As Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., noted in 1971 in Armed Forces Journal – while pointing to “widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of [the] Tsarist armies [of Russia] in 1916 and 1917” — as many as 144 “underground” papers were being published for soldiers.  Some were simply aimed at them by antiwar activists, but a surprising number were written and published by dissident troops themselves.  “In Vietnam,” the Ft. Lewis-McChord Free Press typically wrote, “the lifers, the Brass, are the true Enemy, not the enemy.” 

Recently, I reread Chomsky’s “After Pinkville.”  (“Pinkville” was a generic U.S. military name for the village of My Lai where a company of U.S. Army troops carried out the single most horrific, up-close-and-personal slaughter of the war: more than 500 Vietnamese women, children, infants, and old men were murdered, none resistant, many finishing breakfast.)  Chomsky’s essay remains a devastating account of the kind of large-scale, widespread destruction — the dimensions of which are now largely forgotten and even at the time were ill-known here — the U.S. military visited on rural South Vietnam at the height of the war.  As he then summed it up, “The world’s most advanced society has found the answer to people’s war: eliminate the people.”  In that essay, Chomsky was chiding the antiwar movement for not doing more and urging on those of us in it.  It made a singularly powerful impression on me at the time — and it should have.  He concluded: “Continued mass actions, patient explanation, principled resistance can be boring, depressing. But those who program the B52 attacks and the ‘pacification’ exercise are not bored, and as long as they continue in their work, so must we.”

Today, the U.S. has been fighting two nightmarish wars of destruction on either end of the Greater Middle East, and yet such an essay would, in essence, be almost impossible to write.  There is, in a sense, no one to write it for.  Nick Turse who, in recent years, has traveled the backlands and rural villages of Vietnam and Cambodia interviewing villagers who suffered through the American wars in their countries, knows a good deal about what war really means to those who can’t leave when the going gets tough and stays tough, year after miserable year.  He also knows a good deal about what sorts of war literature were available to Americans, then and now.  His just-published book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, runs distinctly against the tide of twenty-first century war publications in America.  (To catch him discussing the “Pentagon printing press” and the Afghan War in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.)  Tom

Publish or Perish 
Getting a Read on American War 
By Nick Turse

Quick — name the five most important, influential, and best known books on the Afghan War.  Okay, name three.  Okay, I’ll settle for two.  How about one?

While the American war in Vietnam raged, publishers churned out books whose titles still resonate.  In 1967 alone, classics like Mary McCarthy’s Vietnam, Howard Zinn’s Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, not to mention Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam: A Novel all hit the shelves.

In fact, between 1962 and 1970, as American involvement in the conflict accelerated and peaked, some 9,430 books were written about the Vietnam War.  From 2002 to 2010, less than half as many — 4,221 texts of all types — have been written about the Afghan War. 

Of course, it didn’t help that, from 2003-2008, the Iraq War sucked up all the attention and left Afghanistan largely “forgotten,” analytically and otherwise, nor did it help that the Afghan War never had a significant antiwar movement.  The vibrant, large-scale movement of the Vietnam years, filled with people eager to learn more about just what they were protesting, proved an engine that drove publishers.  Significant numbers of books produced by and for members of that movement investigated aspects of the civilian suffering the American war brought to Indochina.  Not surprisingly, the Afghan War has produced many fewer works on the conflict’s human fallout, and books like Zinn’s, calling for withdrawal, have been few and far between.

Four decades ago, a stream of books was being produced for popular audiences that exposed the nature of war-making and focused readers’ attention on the misery caused by U.S. military actions abroad.  Today, a startling percentage of the authors who bother to focus on the current conflict are producing works dedicated to waging the seemingly endless American war in Afghanistan better.

Pentagon Reading Lists

Just recently, the Pentagon put a book focused on the Afghan War, Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, on the bestseller list.  No mean feat in itself.  The initial version of Shaffer’s book, vetted and cleared for release by his Army Reserve chain of command, was already in print and about to head for local bookstores when the Pentagon got cold feet about letting the man who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency’s operations out of Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield in 2003-2004 have his say.  At a cost of almost $50,000 taxpayer dollars, the Defense Department promptly reached an agreement with Shaffer and his publisher to buy up and then destroy most of that print run — about 9,500 copies.  The resulting publicity from the military’s official book-burning vaulted a newly redacted version to number one on Amazon.com’s bestseller list and, according to Army Times, “a week after going on sale, it was on its third reprint with 50,000 copies sold or on sale.”

Operation Dark Heart’s path to prominence may have been atypical, but when it comes to books on the Afghan War, the Pentagon has driven sales and shaped the market in other powerful ways.  For one thing, the war has produced a plethora of professional military reading lists populated by books designed to help officers and enlisted personnel become educated in the hottest subject in military affairs: counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine — the same disastrous form of warfare that, in the Vietnam years, indirectly produced so many books for antiwar reading lists.

Take the “Commander’s Counterinsurgency Reading List” from the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center.  It contains seven key texts, most of them classic works, including The Evolution of a Revolt by T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), but its “additional readings” contain newer faves like retired Army colonel and COIN uber-cheerleader John Nagl’s 2002 text, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.  Similarly, a pre-deployment reading list for Army personnel shipping out to Afghanistan breaks down selections by rank, assigning privates a series of texts, including Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, while their colonels are told to read Nagl’s book, among other works.

“Today’s military thinker must appreciate the many dimensions – political, environmental, economic, informational, and others – that comprise international security,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz in July, marking the latest of his office’s quarterly recommendations of books to read.  Among the selections was former Australian infantry officer and counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen’s 2009 offering, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, which also appeared on this year’s U.S. Army War College’s “suggested military reading list.”

But don’t think this is strictly a military phenomenon.  Nagl’s and Kilcullen’s works and others like them, focused on enhancing war-fighting capabilities, not stirring debate on the wisdom or morality of the war in question or war-making in general, are increasingly being sold to civilian audiences, too.  In recent years, newspapers and magazines have done their part in publicizing selections from such military reading lists and from military or former military figures.  The process, involving articles, positive book reviews, op-ed opportunities, as well as raves from pundits and commentators, can now transform even a once little-noticed Pentagon-approved tract into a must-read for the book-buying public.

Confessions of a COINdinista

With the career implosion of General Stanley McChrystal this past summer, Kilcullen became America’s second foremost “COINdinista” — as advocates of counterinsurgency warfare are now called.  Numero uno, of course, is General David Petraeus, who first dusted off Vietnam’s counterinsurgency doctrine, long discarded by the U.S. military, and made it gleam in a 2006 manual produced for the Army and Marines.  It even got its own trade edition complete with a foreword co-authored by none other than, you guessed it, Petraeus himself.  He then employed Kilcullen, who was (like Nagl) one of the field manual’s many co-authors, as his senior counterinsurgency advisor while he commanded the Multinational Force in Iraq in 2007.  Today, Kilcullen serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Caerus, a private consulting firm which sells advice to those operating in areas in crisis, like war and disaster zones. 

This year, Kilcullen has a new book out.  Its one-word title could hardly be more sweeping: Counterinsurgency.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it, even though, as the author immediately informs readers, the book is simply “a snapshot of wartime thinking,” a collection of new and previously published selections “written mainly in the field during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  In reality, the COIN guru’s latest offering is yet another manual, complete with rounded corners and an easy-to-grip, beveled “tough cover,” designed to be tossed into a rucksack and taken to war — or simply meant to thrill a certain class of armchair COINdinistas.

No one reading this book or his previous one can doubt Kilcullen is smart, even if quite a few of his observations come across as anything but.  Case in point are some of his “twenty-eight articles” (a reference to T.E. Lawrence’s famed “Twenty-Seven Articles” on waging an insurgency, a title choice which manages to imply that Kilcullen is the new Lawrence of… well, the Greater Middle East).  These fundamentals for company-level counterinsurgency, distributed on-line ad infinitum by the COIN community, have already become very influential within the U.S. military. 

Here’s a little sample: “Be prepared for setbacks.”  No shit.  “Have a game plan.”  Ditto.  “Rank is nothing: talent is everything.”  Alright already.  You get the idea. 

While America does send mere boys into combat, one hopes the slightly older boys leading them would have already discovered many of these truths.  Likely as not, military fans have embraced Kilcullen’s 27-plus-1, because it is a short read in the always-popular checklist format.  

More interesting than anything in Kilcullen’s new book is what it says about the topics on the table for the military crowd and what publishers like Oxford University Press, which sent the text into the world, think is important about the Afghan War.  Counterinsurgency is in.  War-fighting handbooks are in.  Gimmick covers designed for the warzone are in.  Analysis about whether to fight such wars, investigation of the true costs of war to those most affected, plans to end bloody costly wars: all definitely out.

The Pentagon Printing Press

Kilcullen, now freelancing “in the board room, the battle space, and anywhere in between” (according to his company’s website), represents one militarized segment of this overwhelmingly pro-war, or at least anti-antiwar, publishing trend.  Another party responsible for beefing up the numbers when it comes to books on the Afghan War is the military itself. 

Over the last year, the Pentagon’s own publishing arms have been printing up a storm.  Take Afghanistan Counterinsurgency and the Indirect Approach, released earlier this year by the Joint Special Operations University — a Pentagon professional school designed to meet the “specific educational needs of special operators and non-SOF [special operations forces] national security decision makers.”  It is just one of the many monographs pouring off Pentagon presses that investigate various aspects of COIN and related concepts with an eye toward improving U.S. fortunes in Afghanistan.   In the book, Thomas Henrikson, former Army officer and now senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, conducts a historical analysis of the “indirect approach” to COIN.  (In other words, when Americans partner with, or rely on, local forces to carry out U.S. wars abroad.)  And guess what?  He thinks it’s exactly the way to go, so long as it’s done with “thoughtfulness,” and so he advocates for more of the same in the years ahead. 

Another Joint Special Operations University monograph on COIN concepts published this year, Joseph Celeski’s Hunter-Killer Teams: Attacking Enemy Safe Havens, analyzes past efforts at “hunter-killer operations” — long-term lethal missions conducted in enemy safe havens designed to out-guerrilla enemy guerrillas.  Celeski, a retired colonel who spent 30 years in the Army and served two tours commanding special ops units in Afghanistan, offers a hunter-killer survey of history ranging from brutal American colonial efforts against Native Americans to the ruthless anti-partisan warfare of Nazi jagdkommandos during World War II.  While he’s at it, he can’t help cataloging a sordid history of soldiers making war on noncombatants in the name of counterinsurgency. 

You would think that, given the lineage of hunter-killer operations and where they always seem to lead, Celeski might suggest that they are ineffective in a COIN environment, where “hearts and minds” are key, and a sure road to war crimes and civilian suffering.  Not so.  Instead, he advocates the creation of new, specialized “hunter-killer” units within the U.S. military.  And on the ground he’s in good company, it turns out.  At this moment, according to the New York Times, Afghan War commander Petraeus is threatening (more) cross-border ground operations into Pakistan and “greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night).”

War — What Is It Good For?

A marketplace filled with books by former military men devoted to tweaking, enhancing, and improving war-fighting capabilities cries out for some counterbalance.  This year’s foremost civilian-authored text on the conflict in Afghanistan is, without a doubt, Sebastian Junger’s War.  While nothing like the antiwar texts of the 1960s and 1970s that laid bare the folly and terror of American campaigns in Southeast Asia, War still offers a rare glimpse of the horrors that authors like Celeski, Henrikson, and Kilcullen tend to skip over or discount. 

Early in his book, Junger recounts a Navy SEAL’s admission that the only thing that stopped him from executing three unarmed Afghans was concern about the press catching wind of the murders.  A page later, he writes of an American attempt to take out a mid-level Taliban leader in Chichal, a village high above Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, that killed 17 civilians instead.  The military responsible for training that elite fighter who felt unconstrained by the laws of war and the men who called in the air strike on Chichal is the very one Kilcullen and various Pentagon minds think can carry out kind-COIN.

As a book, War suffers from many of the pitfalls that afflicted its movie companion, the documentary Restrepo.  The overly ambitious title belies the fact that it is not about “war,” but one aspect of war, combat, as experienced by U.S. Army troops in Korengal Valley.  Moreover, there’s a dismaying amount of combat-friendly hyperbole and celebratory rhetoric in and around the book, from the publisher’s book-jacket prose labeling combat “the ultimate test of character” — a theme that buzzes through the entire book — to a famous chapter-leading quote by George Orwell or Winston Churchill (Junger refuses to decide which) that tells us we all “sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” 

Unfortunately, as the last century showed, too many “rough men” were all too willing to do the bidding of leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Suharto, Brezhnev, Johnson, and Nixon, to name just a few, to the detriment of many millions who ended up dead, wounded, or psychologically scarred.  All of this suggests that perhaps if we stopped celebrating “rough men,” we could all sleep easier.

That said, there is much to be learned from Junger’s in-print version of Americans-at-war.  His blow-by-blow accounts of small unit combat actions, for instance, drive home the tremendous firepower American troops unleash on enemies often armed with little more than rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.  Page after page tallies up American technology and firepower:  M-4 assault rifles (some with M-203 grenade launchers), Squad Automatic Weapons or SAWs, .50 caliber machine guns, M-240 machine guns, Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers, mortars, 155 mm artillery, surveillance drones, Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 Spectre gunships, A-10 Warthogs, F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, B-52 and B-1 bombers, all often brought to bear against boys who may be wielding nothing more than Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles — a state of the art weapon when introduced.  That, however, was in the 1890s. 

The profligacy of relying on such overwhelming firepower is not lost on Junger who offers a useful insight in regard to another high-tech, high-priced piece of U.S. weaponry, “a huge shoulder-fired rocket called a Javelin.”  Junger writes: “Each Javelin round costs $80,000, and the idea that it’s fired by a guy who doesn’t make that in a year at a guy who doesn’t make that in a lifetime is somehow so outrageous it almost makes the war seem winnable.”

But “almost,” as the old adage goes, only counts when it comes to horseshoes and hand grenades.  And bombs dropped by B-1s, like one unleashed at night near the village of Yaka Chine, are certainly not hand grenades.  Junger chronicles the aftermath of that strike when U.S. troops encountered “three children with blackened faces… a woman lying stunned mute on the floor [while f]ive corpses lie on wooden pallets covered by white cloth outside the house, all casualties from the airstrikes the night before.”  He continues, “The civilian casualties are a serious matter and will require diplomacy and compensation.” 

Instead, an American lieutenant colonel choppers in to lecture village elders about the evils of “miscreants” in their midst and brags about his officers’ educational prowess and how it can benefit the Afghans.  “They stare back unmoved,” writes Junger.  “The Americans fly out of Yaka Chine, and valley elders meet among themselves to decide what to do.  Five people are dead in Yaka Chine, along with ten wounded, and the elders declare jihad against every American in the valley.”  Vignettes like this drive home the reasons why, after nearly a decade of overwhelming firepower, the U.S. war in Afghanistan has yet to prove “winnable,” despite the ministrations of Kilcullen and crew.

Later in the book we read about how Junger survives an improvised explosive device that detonates beneath his vehicle.  He’s saved only by a jumpy trigger-man who touches two wires to a battery a bit too early to kill Junger and the other occupants of the Army Humvee he’s riding in.  In response, Junger writes: “[T]his man wanted to negate everything I’d ever done in my life or might ever do.  It felt malicious and personal in a way that combat didn’t.  Combat gives you the chance to react well and survive; bombs don’t allow for anything.” 

Junger, at least, traveled across the world to consciously and deliberately put himself in harm’s way.  Imagine how the poor people of Yaka Chine must have felt when a $300 million American aircraft swooped in to drop a bomb on them in the dead of night.  Junger’s book helps reveal these facts far better than his movie.   

Getting a Read on War

Surveying this year’s Afghan War literature from popular best-sellers to little noticed Army monographs is generally disheartening but illuminating.  “The moral basis of the war doesn’t interest soldiers much,” writes Junger near the beginning of his book.  “[T]hey generally leave the big picture to others.” 

America’s fighting men at the front are not alone. Most Americans have similarly chosen to ignore the “moral basis” for the war and the big picture as well.  They have been aided and abetted in this not only by a president evidently bent on escalating the conflict at every turn, but also by a coterie of authors — many of them connected to the Pentagon — content to critique only doctrine, strategy, and tactics.  Each of them is eager to push for his favorite flavor of warfare, but loath to address weightier issues.  Perhaps this is one reason why Junger’s front-line troops — if they are indeed sampling the best the military’s prescribed reading lists have to offer — have a tendency to ignore fundamental issues and skip intellectual and moral inquiry.

If Pentagon-consultant-turned-potential-defense-contractor Kilcullen and the Joint Special Operations University’s author corps aren’t going to address morals and “big picture” issues, then the Sebastian Jungers of the world need to step up and cover the real, everyday face of war: the plight of civilians in the conflict zone.  They also should focus on big-picture issues like whether the United States actually has anything approaching a true strategic vision when it comes to its wars and occupations abroad, whether there truly is a global Islamist insurgency as Kilcullen maintains, whether it could ever coalesce into a worldwide threat, and whether whatever it is that exists should be attacked with the force of arms.  They need to offer more help in launching serious mainstream debate about America’s permanent state of war and its fallout.

The U.S. military’s reading lists are, not surprisingly, dedicated to combat and counterinsurgency.  So are its favorite authors.  To them, combat is war.  Civilians in war zones know better.  They know that war is suffering, because they live with it, not a tour at a time but constantly, day after day, week after week, year after year.  Civilians outside war zones should know, too.  It would be helpful if they had authors with the skill, intellect, and courage to help them to understand the truth.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just been published.  Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.  His website is NickTurse.com.  To catch Turse discussing the “Pentagon printing press” and the Afghan War in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 14th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been sounding the alarm about the fact that the burden of "our" wars is being disproportionately borne by a very small slice of the population: soldiers and their families.

Like, I am sure, many Americans, I have sharply conflicted feelings about this.

One the one hand: I strongly agree with Secretary Gates that the burden is disproportionately falling on a few, and that this is unjust, and I am glad that he is trying to use his position to call attention to this injustice and urge that it be remedied.

On the other hand: they are not my wars. I did not vote for them, I did not and I do not support them. I have worked with others to end them; obviously, my companions and I have not yet succeeded in this endeavor, but going forward, I am more seized with the urgency of ending the wars than with the urgency of spreading the pain more fairly while they continue.

Moreover, I am not a little irritated that my opinions, and those of my companions, are systematically marginalized when major decisions about the wars are made, but we are then urged to more fully share the sacrifices resulting from the decisions into which we were told that our input was not welcome.

Secretary Gates is surely aware of the paradox of his position: he bemoans the fact that the burden of the wars falls disproportionately on a few, but he is well aware that the fact that the burden falls disproportionately on a few is a policy choice that has been made by his colleagues with the goal of facilitating war politically.

If we allow ourselves to consider all possible remedies to the problem posed by Secretary Gates, including those that are politically absurd, an obvious solution presents itself: reinstate the military draft.

But this is a dead letter politically. The Pentagon doesn’t want it; Congress will never approve it.

read more

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Posted by Peace Action West on October 13th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Political science professor Robert Pape, well known for his research on suicide terrorism, has released a new study linking suicide terrorism to military occupation:

Pape and his team of researchers draw on data produced by a six-year study of suicide terrorist attacks around the world that was partially funded by the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. They have compiled the terrorism statistics in a publicly available database comprising some 10,000 records on some 2,200 suicide terrorism attacks, dating back to the first suicide terrorism attack of modern times — the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. Marines.

“We have lots of evidence now that when you put the foreign military presence in, it triggers suicide terrorism campaigns, … and that when the foreign forces leave, it takes away almost 100 percent of the terrorist campaign,” Pape said in an interview last week on his findings.

Pape said there has been a dramatic spike in suicide bombings in Afghanistan since U.S. forces began to expand their presence to the south and east of the country in 2006. While there were a total of 12 suicide attacks from 2001 to 2005 in Afghanistan when the U.S. had a relatively limited troop presence of a few thousand troops mostly in Kabul, since 2006 there have been more than 450 suicide attacks in Afghanistan — and they are growing more lethal, Pape said.

Deaths due to suicide attacks in Afghanistan have gone up by a third in the year since President Barack Obama added 30,000 more U.S. troops. “It is not making it any better,” Pape said.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon had the same “duh” reaction many of us have to this conclusion, calling it “bleedingly obvious,” and offers some solid sarcastic analysis:

Imagine that.  Isn’t Muslim culture just so bizarre, primitive, and inscrutable?  As strange as it is, they actually seem to dislike it when foreign militaries bomb, invade and occupy their countries, and Western powers interfere in their internal affairs by overthrowing and covertly manipulating their governments,imposing sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children, and arming their enemies.  Therefore (of course), the solution to Terrorism is to interfere more in their countries by continuing to occupy, bomb, invade, assassinate, lawlessly imprison and control them, because that’s the only way we can Stay Safe.  There are people over there who are angry at us for what we’re doing in their world, so we need to do much more of it to eradicate the anger.  That’s the core logic of the War on Terror.  How is that working out?

 

The question now is whether the Defense Department will heed the results of a study they helped fund. My guess is not without some significant pressure from the public and Congress, and Pape’s study just gives us more evidence to make our case.

 

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on October 13th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Marc Ambinder and others are now confirming the Guardian story today that a U.S. SEAL killed kidnapped aid worker Linda Norgrave when he threw a fragmentation grenade instead of a smoke one, fatally wounding her. Marc writes:

A senior military official tells me that a preliminary investigation into the killing of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Northern Afghanistan found that a U.S. Navy SEAL tossed a fragmentation grenade into the compound where Norgrove was being held, thinking it was a smoke grenade.

…NATO originally blamed the Taliban for Norgrove's death but immediately launched an investigation after commanders reviewed after-action reports.

For me, this admission only begs more questions, chief among them:

The AFP reported on Saturday, while NATO was still blaming the Taliban, that a U.S. grenade had caused Norgrave's fatal wounds. They got this from an Afghan intelligence official. That calls into question the official narrative of a SEAL commander acting "on a hunch" and reviewing mission tapes to discover one of his men hadn't told the whole story. Was the investigation really begun in response to AFP's report and others that challenged the then-official story?

—The official story is that the raid to rescue Norgrave was mounted because NATO was certain that she was about to be moved into Pakistan or possibly killed. Yet the Guardian today also ran a story in which Afghan negotiators say they were on the doorstep, ready to bargain for her release.

Meanwhile, a senior western official in Kabul said it was difficult to see why the US and UK governments did not give negotiation a greater chance. "We've had over seventy abductions of NGO people this year, with just three or four killed. That's a 5% chance of being killed," he said.

Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist who was kidnapped for six days in the same part of Kunar last November, criticised the rescue bid: "When I was in captivity I called my embassy and I was very clear that I didn't want any rescue attempt," he said. "I understand that every politician wants to take credit for the raid on Entebbe," he added, referring to the successful 1976 Israeli commando raid on a hijacked airliner in Uganda. "But this was stupid, really."

Was the raid premature?

Why is there a NATO investigation, being led by US special forces chief Maj. Gen Votel with a junior British officer, Brigadier Rob Nitsch - the head of logistics for UK forces in Afghanistan – as his aide?

One Army officer, dismissing Brigadier Nitsch as a ‘blanket-stacker’ responsible for sorting out troops’ bedding supplies, told the Mail: ‘It’s a one-star logistician and a two-star special forces general. How much clout will our man have? Not a lot.’

Tory MP Stephen Phillips said: ‘The U.S. military has got a history of investigating things and not getting the full truth. That is a serious concern.’

A senior defence source said: ‘The Americans have been reticent in the past to share information, especially if it is controversial. In this instance complete transparency is vital. There mustn’t be even a hint of a whitewash.’

If David Cameron had really intended that there be not even "a hint of a whitewash", he would have followed British law and insisted the Americans co-operate fully. Why hasn't there been a Coroner's Inquest convened into Linda Norgrave's death?

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on October 13th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


Aside from the sheer majestic beauty of the place– and the primitiveness of the life– there weren’t many “tourist attractions” in Afghanistan, one of the most fascinating countries I’ve ever visited. One was the Shrine of Hazrat Ali (the fabulous Blue Mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif) way up north, and the other was the giant 1,500-year-old carved buddhas in the Bamian Valley north of Kabul. Religious intolerance on a sociopathic scale has disposed of the latter, although so far the former hasn’t been damaged by the same mentality. Just wait.

I’ve never had an actual religion. My dad was a dedicated atheist, the thing I admired most about him. I studied religions in college, and wound up fooling around with Buddhism for a good long time. When I came back to Europe from a two-year sojourn on the Indian subcontinent, I spent four years working in de Kosmos, Amsterdam’s sprawling, nonsectarian meditation center. Of all the belief systems I came across there, the one that had the most appeal to me was a pantheistic, ascetic, mystical offshoot of Islam: Sufism. It’s the closest I ever came to “having a religion.” I was thrilled many years later when I went to the annual Sufi hoedown in Konya, Turkey, and experienced the real deal dervish dancing and then visited Rumi’s tomb. It was moving, but not really a religious experience for me.

Nevertheless, last week when I read about the senseless bombing of a Sufi shrine– where spiritually minded Sunnis and Shi’a both went to practice devotions– in Karachi, I was mortified. Sufism is a beautiful, poetic, contemplative, open faith that is neither aggressive nor holier-than-thou. Fundamentalists and totalitarians just cannot countenance it. Nine worshippers were killed and over 70 injured, many very seriously. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. They don’t believe in shrines or saints; they believe they’re a kind of blasphemy, in fact.

So what does this have to do with the congressional race in Orlando, Florida? I’m glad you asked, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s turn to Markos Moulitsas’ brilliant and provocative new book, American Taliban. As you know, conservatives never tire of puffing themselves up and yammering– when not shrieking– about “freedom” and “liberty.” Alas, theirs is the “freedom” of the rich and powerful to degrade and exploit the poor and vulnerable and the “liberty” of sociopaths and narcissists to prey on society. Right in the beginning of his book, Markos establishes the clear lines that bind the Muslim Taliban to what can be called the religious fanatics and extremists in this country known as the American Taliban.

This “freedom” they all claim to seek is, to put it mildly, a limited one: freedom to worship their god and subscribe to their ideology, not freedom to live one’s life as one sees fit. At its core is the idea that all laws of the land must flow from their holy book, and that all else is deviation that must be banned.

Holding such beliefs is fine, but foisting them on the rest of us is not. Filled with a moral certitude born of religious conviction, these fundamentalists want a society in which “freedom” means being free to submit to their god. “When the Christian majority takes over this country, there will be no satanic churches, no more free distribution of pornography, no more talk of rights for homosexuals,” thundered Gary Potter, president of Catholics for Christian Political Action. “After the Christian majority takes control, pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil, and the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.”… Totalitarianism for Christ.

This level of intolerance is not the domain of loons and fringe characters but rather the very lifeblood coursing through the entire body of the modern conservative movement.

…The American Taliban’s ideology– with its rigid conformity and lack of tolerance for dissent– extends far beyond biblical matters and spills over into areas of domestic and foreign policy… Their approach to life is angry and vengeful, and they cling desperately to scriptural certainty in a tumultuous world…

Such certainty, manifested merely as intolerance, would be problematic but not dangerous. However, the American Taliban, like their Islamic extremist brethren across the globe seek to force their rigid views on the rest of society. Such totalitarianism is incompatible with freedom and democracy… In essence, god’s law supersedes man’s law, and any institution designed to provide for secular governance is by nature illegitimate.

…”I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you,” said Randall Terry, founder of the militant anti-abortion protest group Operation Rescue in 1993. “I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”

…The American Taliban seek a tyranny of the believers in which the popular will, the laws of the land, and all of secular society are surrendered to their clerics and ideologues.

And if this describes your world view, you probably shouldn’t be reading DWT; you should be down in Orlando working for a politician running as the representative of the American Taliban, Daniel Webster, aka Taliban Dan.

Webster, a devotee and lockstep follower of millionaire extremist and religionist charlatan Bill Gothard, has sought, as a member of the Florida legislature, to institute his narrow and extreme ideology as the law of the land, not just for fellow devotees, but for everyone. Ask yourself, “When is it okay for a man to cheat on his wife?” and the answer is: in a law that Taliban Dan wrote and then tried, unsuccessfully, to pass in Florida. Alan Grayson’s campaign brought another example of Webster’s hypocrisy to light this week, pointing out that Webster tried to make it the law of Florida that a woman who cheats on her husband cannot receive alimony, but a husband who cheats can.

The “Men Can Cheat” caveat is part of Webster’s now-infamous “Covenant Marriage” bill. Not surprisingly, Webster wrote the bill in a way to allow the hypocritical idea to go virtually unnoticed. The short sentence appears near the end of the bill. It says, “No alimony shall be granted to an adulterous wife.”

The bill does not include any mention of penalties for a cheating husband. A review of state law shows that men were entitled to alimony in 1990. Therefore, one can only conclude that Daniel Webster worded his bill carefully to ensure that cheating women are penalized, and cheating husbands are not.

On the other hand, if all this religious bickering is something you don’t want to deal with… here’s a nice song about raising highway tolls you might enjoy which comes from the same mentality:

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on October 12th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

I heartily recommend Pepe Escobar's piece China's Pipelineistan "War" over at Mother Jones today. Not only is it an informative read, but it also opens up questions about US threats to take the Af/Pak war fully into Pakistan. Would China stand idly by? Not likely.

Here's an extended extract but read the whole thing.

in the New Great Game in Eurasia, China had the good sense not to send a soldier anywhere or get bogged down in an infinite quagmire in Afghanistan. Instead, the Chinese simply made a direct commercial deal with Turkmenistan and, profiting from that country's disagreements with Moscow, built itself a pipeline which will provide much of the natural gas it needs.

No wonder the Obama administration's Eurasian energy czar Richard Morningstar was forced to admit at a congressional hearing that the US simply cannot compete with China when it comes to Central Asia's energy wealth. If only he had delivered the same message to the Pentagon.

…At present, however, the Chinese are atop the heap, and more generally, whatever happens, there can be little question that Central Asia will be China's major foreign supplier of natural gas. On the other hand, the fact that Turkmenistan has, in practice, committed its entire future gas exports to China, Russia, and Iran means the virtual death of various trans-Caspian Sea pipeline plans long favored by Washington and the European Union.

…On the gas front, China definitely counts on a South Asian game changer. Beijing has already spent $200 million on the first phase in the construction of a deepwater port at Gwadar in Pakistan's Balochistan Province. It wanted, and got from Islamabad, "sovereign guarantees to the port's facilities." Gwadar is only 400 kilometers from Hormuz. With Gwadar, the Chinese Navy would have a homeport that would easily allow it to monitor traffic in the strait and someday perhaps even thwart the US Navy's expansionist designs in the Indian Ocean.

But Gwadar has another infinitely juicier future role. It could prove the pivot in a competition between two long-discussed pipelines: TAPI and IPI. TAPI stands for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, which can never be built as long as US and NATO occupation forces are fighting the resistance umbrella conveniently labeled "Taliban" in Afghanistan. IPI, however, is the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline" (which, of course, would make TAPI the "war pipeline"). To Washington's immeasurable distress, last June, Iran and Pakistan finally closed the deal to build the "IP" part of IPI, with Pakistan assuring Iran that either India or China could later be brought into the project.

Whether it's IP, IPI, or IPC, Gwadar will be a key node. If, under pressure from Washington, which treats Tehran like the plague, India is forced to pull out of the project, China already has made it clear that it wants in. The Chinese would then build a Pipelineistan link from Gwadar along the Karakorum highway in Pakistan to China via the Khunjerab Pass—another overland corridor that would prove immune to US interference. It would have the added benefit of radically cutting down the 20,000-kilometer-long tanker route around the southern rim of Asia.

Arguably, for the Indians it would be a strategically sound move to align with IPI, trumping a deep suspicion that the Chinese will move to outflank them in the search for foreign energy with a "string of pearls" strategy: the setting up of a series of "home ports" along its key oil supply routes from Pakistan to Myanmar. In that case, Gwadar would no longer simply be a "Chinese" port.

As for Washington, it still believes that if TAPI is built, it will help keep India from fully breaking the US-enforced embargo on Iran. Energy-starved Pakistan obviously prefers its "all-weather" ally China, which might commit itself to building all sorts of energy infrastructure within that flood-devastated country. In a nutshell, if the unprecedented energy cooperation between Iran, Pakistan, and China goes forward, it will signal a major defeat for Washington in the New Great Game in Eurasia, with enormous geopolitical and geo-economic repercussions.

Describing China as Pakistan's "all-weather" ally, in contrast to the U.S. is perfectly accurate and something the other rising regional power, India has understood for some time. And expecting to be able to treat the Gordian Knot of entangled and often competing interests in the region is unimaginably naive – the war in Afghanistan has knock-on effects on Iran sanctions, and vice versa, for example. The current hyping of the notion that the U.S. should be unilaterally making war inside Pakistani territory if Pakistan won't co-operate fully has the potential to upset everything, bringing in other regional powers whether they liked it or not, much as the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand upset the Gordian Knot of European Great Power relations and precipitated World War One.

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Posted by alexthurston on October 12th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Back before email, a world traveler who wanted to keep in touch and couldn’t just pop into the nearest Internet café might drop you a series of postcards from one exotic locale after another. Pepe Escobar, that edgy, peripatetic globe-trotting reporter for one of my favorite on-line publications, Asia Times, has been doing just that for TomDispatch readers as he explores the geography that undergirds our civilization, the pipelines that crisscross Eurasia through which flow energy — and trouble. This, then, is his fourth “postcard” from what he likes to call Pipelineistan. The first in March 2009 began laying out a great, ongoing energy struggle across Eurasia and the Great Game of business, diplomacy, and proxy war between Russia and the U.S. that went with it.

In May of that year, he plunged eastward into tumultuous Central and South Asia and the expanding battleground that, in Washington, goes by the neologism Af-Pak (for the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations).  Next, in October, he headed west toward Europe and another developing struggle, which he dubbed “Pipelineistan’s Ultimate Opera“, over just how natural gas from the Caspian Sea would reach Europe.  Now, in his first stop of 2010, he heads where, it seems, anyone interested in energy — maybe anyone interested in anything at all — more or less has to head these days: China and the new Silk Road of pipelines that offer the former Middle Kingdom a partial shot at future energy security and Washington future anxieties of all sorts.  Tom

China’s Pipelineistan “War”
Anteing Up, Betting, and Bluffing in the New Great Game

By Pepe Escobar

Future historians may well agree that the twenty-first century Silk Road first opened for business on December 14, 2009.  That was the day a crucial stretch of pipeline officially went into operation linking the fabulously energy-rich state of Turkmenistan (via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) to Xinjiang Province in China’s far west. Hyperbole did not deter the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s president, from bragging, “This project has not only commercial or economic value. It is also political. China, through its wise and farsighted policy, has become one of the key guarantors of global security.”

The bottom line is that, by 2013, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong will be cruising to ever more dizzying economic heights courtesy of natural gas supplied by the 1,833-kilometer-long Central Asia Pipeline, then projected to be operating at full capacity. And to think that, in a few more years, China’s big cities will undoubtedly also be getting a taste of Iraq’s fabulous, barely tapped oil reserves, conservatively estimated at 115 billion barrels, but possibly closer to 143 billion barrels, which would put it ahead of Iran. When the Bush administration’s armchair generals launched their Global War on Terror, this was not exactly what they had in mind.

China’s economy is thirsty, and so it’s drinking deeper and planning deeper yet.  It craves Iraq’s oil and Turkmenistan’s natural gas, as well as oil from Kazakhstan. Yet instead of spending more than a trillion dollars on an illegal war in Iraq or setting up military bases all over the Greater Middle East and Central Asia, China used its state oil companies to get some of the energy it needed simply by bidding for it in a perfectly legal Iraqi oil auction.

Meanwhile, in the New Great Game in Eurasia, China had the good sense not to send a soldier anywhere or get bogged down in an infinite quagmire in Afghanistan.  Instead, the Chinese simply made a direct commercial deal with Turkmenistan and, profiting from that country’s disagreements with Moscow, built itself a pipeline which will provide much of the natural gas it needs.

No wonder the Obama administration’s Eurasian energy czar Richard Morningstar was forced to admit at a congressional hearing that the U.S. simply cannot compete with China when it comes to Central Asia’s energy wealth. If only he had delivered the same message to the Pentagon.

That Iranian Equation

In Beijing, they take the matter of diversifying oil supplies very, very seriously. When oil reached $150 a barrel in 2008 — before the U.S.-unleashed global financial meltdown hit — Chinese state media had taken to calling foreign Big Oil “international petroleum crocodiles,” with the implication that the West’s hidden agenda was ultimately to stop China’s relentless development dead in its tracks.

Twenty-eight percent of what’s left of the world’s proven oil reserves are in the Arab world. China could easily gobble it all up. Few may know that China itself is actually the world’s fifth largest oil producer, at 3.7 million barrels per day (bpd), just below Iran and slightly above Mexico. In 1980, China consumed only 3% of the world’s oil. Now, its take is around 10%, making it the planet’s second largest consumer.  It has already surpassed Japan in that category, even if it’s still way behind the U.S., which eats up 27% of global oil each year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China will account for over 40% of the increase in global oil demand until 2030. And that’s assuming China will grow at “only” a 6% annual rate which, based on present growth, seems unlikely.

Saudi Arabia controls 13% of world oil production. At the moment, it is the only swing producer — one, that is, that can move the amount of oil being pumped up or down at will — capable of substantially increasing output. It’s no accident, then, that, pumping 500,000 bpd, it has become one of Beijing’s major oil suppliers.  The top three, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce, are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Angola.  By 2013-2014, if all goes well, the Chinese expect to add Iraq to that list in a big way, but first that troubled country’s oil production needs to start cranking up. In the meantime, it’s the Iranian part of the Eurasian energy equation that’s really nerve-racking for China’s leaders.

Chinese companies have invested a staggering $120 billion in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years. Already Iran is China’s number two oil supplier, accounting for up to 14% of its imports; and the Chinese energy giant Sinopec has committed an additional $6.5 billion to building oil refineries there.  Due to harsh U.N.-imposed and American sanctions and years of economic mismanagement, however, the country lacks the high-tech know-how to provide for itself, and its industrial structure is in a shambles.  The head of the National Iranian Oil Company, Ahmad Ghalebani, has publicly admitted that machinery and parts used in Iran’s oil production still have to be imported from China.

Sanctions can be a killer, slowing investment, increasing the cost of trade by over 20%, and severely constricting Tehran’s ability to borrow in global markets. Nonetheless, trade between China and Iran grew by 35% in 2009 to $27 billion. So while the West has been slamming Iran with sanctions, embargos, and blockades, Iran has been slowly evolving as a crucial trade corridor for China — as well as Russia and energy-poor India. Unlike the West, they are all investing like crazy there because it’s easy to get concessions from the government; it’s easy and relatively cheap to build infrastructure; and being on the inside when it comes to Iranian energy reserves is a necessity for any country that wants to be a crucial player in Pipelineistan, that contested chessboard of crucial energy pipelines over which much of the New Great Game in Eurasia takes place. Undoubtedly, the leaders of all three countries are offering thanks to whatever gods they care to worship that Washington continues to make it so easy (and lucrative) for them.

Few in the U.S. may know that last year Saudi Arabia — now (re)arming to the teeth, courtesy of Washington, and little short of paranoid about the Iranian nuclear program — offered to supply the Chinese with the same amount of oil the country currently imports from Iran at a much cheaper price. But Beijing, for whom Iran is a key long-term strategic ally, scotched the deal.

As if Iran’s structural problems weren’t enough, the country has done little to diversify its economy beyond oil and natural gas exports in the past 30 years; inflation’s running at more than 20%; unemployment at more than 20%; and young, well educated people are fleeing abroad, a major brain drain for that embattled land. And don’t think that’s the end of its litany of problems. It would like to be a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) — the multi-layered economic/military cooperation union that is a sort of Asian response to NATO — but is only an official SCO observer because the group does not admit any country under U.N. sanctions.  Tehran, in other words, would like some great power protection against the possibility of an attack from the U.S. or Israel.  As much as Iran may be on the verge of becoming a far more influential player in the Central Asian energy game thanks to Russian and Chinese investment, it’s extremely unlikely that either of those countries would actually risk war against the U.S. to “save” the Iranian regime.

The Great Escape

From Beijing’s point of view, the title of the movie version of the intractable U.S. v. Iran conflict and a simmering U.S. v. China strategic competition in Pipelineistan could be: “Escape from Hormuz and Malacca.”

The Strait of Hormuz is the definition of a potential strategic bottleneck.  It is, after all, the only entryway to the Persian Gulf and through it now flow roughly 20% of China’s oil imports.  At its narrowest, it is only 36 kilometers wide, with Iran to the north and Oman to the south. China’s leaders fret about the constant presence of U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups on station and patrolling nearby.

With Singapore to the North and Indonesia to the south, the Strait of Malacca is another potential bottleneck if ever there was one — and through it flow as much as 80% of China’s oil imports.  At its narrowest, it is only 54 kilometers wide and like the Strait of Hormuz, its security is also of the made-in-USA variety.  In a future face-off with Washington, both straits could quickly be closed or controlled by the U.S. Navy.

Hence, China’s increasing emphasis on developing a land-based Central Asian energy strategy could be summed up as: bye-bye, Hormuz! Bye-bye, Malacca! And a hearty welcome to a pipeline-driven new Silk Road from the Caspian Sea to China’s Far West in Xinjiang.

Kazakhstan has 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves, but its largest oil fields are not far from the Chinese border. China sees that country as a key alternative oil supplier via future pipelines that would link the Kazakh oil fields to Chinese oil refineries in its far west. In fact, China’s first transnational Pipelineistan adventure is already in place: the 2005 China-Kazakhstan oil project, financed by Chinese energy giant CNPC.

Much more is to come, and Chinese leaders expect energy-rich Russia to play a significant part in China’s escape-hatch planning as well. Strategically, this represents a crucial step in regional energy integration, tightening the Russia/China partnership inside the SCO as well as at the U.N. Security Council.

When it comes to oil, the name of the game is the immense Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline. Last August, a 4,000-kilometer-long Russian section from Taishet in eastern Siberia to Nakhodka, still inside Russian territory, was begun.  Russian Premier Vladimir Putin hailed ESPO as “a really comprehensive project that has strengthened our energy cooperation.”  And in late September, the Russians and the Chinese inaugurated a 999-kilometer-long pipeline from Skovorodino in Russia’s Amur region to the petrochemical hub Daqing in northeast China.

Russia is currently delivering up to 130 million tons of Russian oil a year to Europe. Soon, no less than 50 million tons may be heading to China and the Pacific region as well.

There are, however, hidden tensions between the Russians and the Chinese when it comes to energy matters.  The Russian leadership is understandably wary of China’s startling strides in Central Asia, the former Soviet Union’s former “near abroad.”  After all, as the Chinese have been doing in Africa in their search for energy, in Central Asia, too, the Chinese are building railways and introducing high-tech trains, among other modern wonders, in exchange for oil and gas concessions.

Despite the simmering tensions between China, Russia, and the U.S., it’s too early to be sure just who is likely to emerge as the victor in the new Great Game in Central Asia, but one thing is clear enough. The Central Asian “stans” are becoming ever more powerful poker players in their own right as Russia tries not to lose its hegemony there, Washington places all its chips on pipelines meant to bypass Russia (including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that pumps oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia) and China antes up big time for its Central Asian future.  Whoever loses, this is a game that the “stans” cannot but profit from.

Recently, our man Gurbanguly, the Turkmen leader, chose China as his go-to country for an extra $4.18 billion loan for the development of South Yolotan, his country’s largest gas field. (The Chinese had already shelled out $3 billion to help develop it.) Energy bureaucrats in Brussels were devastated.  With estimated reserves of up to 14 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, the field has the potential to flood the energy-starved European Union with gas for more than 20 years.  Goodbye to all that?

In 2009, Turkmenistan’s proven gas reserves were estimated at a staggering 8.1 trillion cubic meters, fourth largest in the world after Russia, Iran, and Qatar.  Not surprisingly, from the point of view of Ashgabat, the country’s capital, it invariably seems to be raining gas.  Nonetheless, experts doubt that the landlocked, idiosyncratic Central Asian republic actually has enough blue gold to supply Russia (which absorbed 70% of Turkmenistan’s supply before the pipeline to China opened), China, Western Europe and Iran, all at the same time.

Currently, Turkmenistan sells its gas to: China via the world’s largest gas pipeline, 7,000 kilometers long and designed for a capacity of 40 billion cubic meters per year, Russia (10 billion cubic meters per year, down from 30 billion per year until 2008), and Iran (14 billion cubic meters per year). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad always gets a red-carpet welcome from Gurbanguly, and the Russian energy giant Gazprom, thanks to an improved pricing policy, is treated as a preferred customer.

At present, however, the Chinese are atop the heap, and more generally, whatever happens, there can be little question that Central Asia will be China’s major foreign supplier of natural gas. On the other hand, the fact that Turkmenistan has, in practice, committed its entire future gas exports to China, Russia, and Iran means the virtual death of various trans-Caspian Sea pipeline plans long favored by Washington and the European Union.

IPI vs. TAPI All Over Again

On the oil front, even if all the “stans” sold China every barrel of oil they currently pump, less than half of China’s daily import needs would be met.  Ultimately, only the Middle East can quench China’s thirst for oil. According to the International Energy Agency, China’s overall oil needs will rise to 11.3 million barrels per day by 2015, even with domestic production peaking at 4.0 million bpd.  Compare that to what some of China’s alternative suppliers are now producing: Angola, 1.4 million bpd; Kazakhstan, 1.4 million as well; and Sudan, 400,000.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia produces 10.9 million bpd, Iran around 4.0 million, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 3.0 million, Kuwait 2.7 million — and then there’s Iraq, presently at 2.5 million and likely to reach at least 4.0 million by 2015. Still, Beijing has yet to be fully convinced that this is a safe supply, especially given all those U.S. “forward operating sites” in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, plus those roaming naval battle groups in the Persian Gulf.

On the gas front, China definitely counts on a South Asian game changer. Beijing has already spent $200 million on the first phase in the construction of a deepwater port at Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. It wanted, and got from Islamabad, “sovereign guarantees to the port’s facilities.” Gwadar is only 400 kilometers from Hormuz. With Gwadar, the Chinese Navy would have a homeport that would easily allow it to monitor traffic in the strait and someday perhaps even thwart the U.S. Navy’s expansionist designs in the Indian Ocean.

But Gwadar has another infinitely juicier future role.  It could prove the pivot in a competition between two long-discussed pipelines: TAPI and IPI. TAPI stands for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, which can never be built as long as U.S. and NATO occupation forces are fighting the resistance umbrella conveniently labeled “Taliban” in Afghanistan. IPI, however, is the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, also known as the “peace pipeline” (which, of course, would make TAPI the “war pipeline”). To Washington’s immeasurable distress, last June, Iran and Pakistan finally closed the deal to build the “IP” part of IPI, with Pakistan assuring Iran that either India or China could later be brought into the project.

Whether it’s IP, IPI, or IPC, Gwadar will be a key node. If, under pressure from Washington, which treats Tehran like the plague, India is forced to pull out of the project, China already has made it clear that it wants in.  The Chinese would then build a Pipelineistan link from Gwadar along the Karakorum highway in Pakistan to China via the Khunjerab Pass — another overland corridor that would prove immune to U.S. interference.  It would have the added benefit of radically cutting down the 20,000-kilometer-long tanker route around the southern rim of Asia.

Arguably, for the Indians it would be a strategically sound move to align with IPI, trumping a deep suspicion that the Chinese will move to outflank them in the search for foreign energy with a “string of pearls” strategy: the setting up of a series of “home ports” along its key oil supply routes from Pakistan to Myanmar. In that case, Gwadar would no longer simply be a “Chinese” port.

As for Washington, it still believes that if TAPI is built, it will help keep India from fully breaking the U.S.-enforced embargo on Iran. Energy-starved Pakistan obviously prefers its “all-weather” ally China, which might commit itself to building all sorts of energy infrastructure within that flood-devastated country. In a nutshell, if the unprecedented energy cooperation between Iran, Pakistan, and China goes forward, it will signal a major defeat for Washington in the New Great Game in Eurasia, with enormous geopolitical and geo-economic repercussions.

For the moment, Beijing’s strategic priority has been to carefully develop a remarkably diverse set of energy-suppliers — a flow of energy that covers Russia, the South China Sea, Central Asia, the East China Sea, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. (China’s forays into Africa and South America will be dealt with in a future installment of our TomDispatch tour of the globe’s energy hotspots.)  If China has so far proven masterly in the way it has played its cards in its Pipelineistan “war”, the U.S. hand — bypass Russia, elbow out China, isolate Iran — may soon be called for what it is: a bluff.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan.  He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2010 Pepe Escobar

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on October 11th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

From the New York Times:

Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that a British aid worker killed in an American rescue raid in Afghanistan last week may have been killed by a grenade detonated by a United States special forces unit — not by her Taliban captors, as the American command in Afghanistan originally announced.

A grim-faced Mr. Cameron appeared at a news conference at 10 Downing Street to say he had learned of “this deeply distressing development” when the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David H. Petraeus, contacted his office early Monday. “General Petraeus has since told me,” the prime minister said, that an American-led review of the raid to rescue Linda Norgrove, 36, “has revealed evidence to indicate that Linda may not have died at the hands of her captors as originally believed.”

He added: “That evidence and subsequent interviews with the personnel involved” — believed to have included a Navy Seals unit specializing in hostage rescues that that has participated in numerous special forces raids in Afghanistan — “suggest that Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault. However, this is not certain and a full U.S./U.K. investigation will now be launched.”

Kudos to AFP for having this from Word One. As we noted two days ago, their Afghan intelligence source was saying immediately after the events that Linda Norgrove had been killed by a US grenade. Other reports said that she hadn't died immediately, but while under emergency medical care at the site of her rescue.

The cynically-minded might suspect that NATO was hoping they could quietly blame the Taliban and have done but too many people noted that earlier AFP report. After all, NATO's credibility is in the gutter on such incidents after far too many initial denials of responsibility for civilian deaths followed by admissions of guilt when independent evidence surfaces. 

As a British citizen before her violent death, the circumstances surrounding Linda Norgrove's death should correctly be the subject of a British coroner's inquest. Such inquests have been the subject of foot-dragging and outright obstruction from U.S. authorities in the past, but that Prime Minister Cameron has so quickly side-stepped common British law and practise to rubber-stamp a "joint" investigation in which the U.S. will necessarily be in the driving seat will not dispel cynical misgivings about the transarency and honesty of official pronouncements on Norgrave's death.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 11th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Oct 11

BBC

British aid worker Linda Norgrove may have been accidentally killed by US forces during a rescue mission in Afghanistan, David Cameron has said.

International forces originally said she died on Friday when one of her captors detonated a suicide vest.

But the prime minister said new details had come to light suggesting her death may have resulted from a US grenade.

Mr Cameron said he had spoken to her family about the “deeply distressing” news.

It had been thought that she was killed by her abductors just as US forces reached the compound in which she was being held.

But Mr Cameron said Gen David Petraeus, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, had telephoned him on Monday morning to say she could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the taskforce during the assault.

He said the general had told him US forces were deeply dismayed at the outcome.

And he added that it was “deeply regrettable” that information published on Saturday about Ms Norgrove was highly likely to have been incorrect.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Nicholas Witchell in Kabul said British officials there were ” utterly dismayed and dumbfounded”.

He said the situation affected the credibility of the Americans and added: “They say the Americans were so certain on Saturday so why has it taken them 48 hours to revise their position?”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on October 10th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

If I were a well-known "progressive" military fanboy blogger, I would have titled this post something like "This is the Happy House" or "Welcome To My Nightmare" and topped the post with some belittling and mostly inappropriate music video to prove how switched on and hip I am. I'm not. This is shocking, disgusting, atrocious and ignored:

“This is a major problem,” Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan’s acting public health minister, told a ceremony in Kabul on World Mental Health Day. “More than 60% of Afghans are suffering from stress disorders and mental problems.”

…“There are only 200 beds for psychiatric services in the country, with only two psychiatrists in the country covering the entire population,” said WHO representative Peter Graaff.

Public health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noryghli said the 60% estimate dated from a study carried out with the WHO in 2004.

“Since war has continued, poverty or economic problems have increased in some parts of the country. We believe that the number of those suffering from mental illnesses has increased and now it is more than 60%,” he said.

The population of Afghanistan is estimated at roughly 28 million.

As we enter Year Ten of false promises of "some small progress", this is the progress we have definitely made. More than 18 million people suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental problems. It dwarfs the total number of drugged-up US servicemen with similiar problems, estimated to be as many as 600,000 after a decade of dumb interventionist occupations, who get far more attention from the media. But even that attention isn't very much.

Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor for Bloomberg News, writes to the NYT today to point out the debate deficit:

There is a total disconnect: The Woodward book depicts Afghanistan as a quagmire-to-be with no clear and coherent strategy. There are almost 100,000 young American men and women deployed there at an annual cost of $119 billion — almost three times the ultimate cost to U.S. taxpayers of the Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue the financial system — and with casualties rising.

In Senate and House races all across the United States, the venue for debating important issues, the candidates are largely silent about the war, irrespective of their contest, region or party.

This absence from the agenda reflects the dominance of the economic concerns facing many Americans. It is also is a matter of political convenience: Democrats with reservations about the war do not want to criticize an already beleaguered president, and Republicans want to appear muscular and tough without providing any plan or specifics.

…It is reasonable to expect these candidates to discuss and debate how long we are willing to put our troops in harm’s way, at what cost in treasure and with what consequences. In a democracy, that is what elections are about.

In 2010, while brave young American men and women put their lives on the line halfway around the world , the politicians at home are flunking this test.

Instead we're debating O'Donnel's fake witchery, some dude who likes to play Nazi dress-up and whether the "professional Left" should continue to support Dem candidates who are suits full of bugger all.

Color me disgusted.

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