War

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Detention of Mutasim Agha Jan by UAE Now Confirmed, Basis Unknown

On Tuesday, I noted that Mutasim Agha Jan had gone missing in Dubai while attempting to work toward negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. Multiple outlets now are reporting on the Peace Council having confirmed that Mutasim was indeed detained by authorities in the UAE. Here is Khaama Press on the confirmation:

The Afghan High Council has confirmed that the former Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has been held in United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Agha Jan Mutasim has been missing in United Arab Emirates during the past several days. He was a senior Taliban leader and was supporting the Afghan peace process with the Taliban group.

Afghan High Peace Council following a statement said the detention of Agha Jan Mutasim clarifies that certain elements in the region are disrupting the Afghan peace talks.

The statement further added that those individuals, who are struggling to resume Afghan peace process, have been victimized.

The High Peace Council insisted that Afghan peace talks should take place inside Afghanistan and negotiations have taken place with the UAE officials to end limitations and resolve the issue of Agha Jan Mutasim.

Note that the High Peace Council accuses “certain elements in the region” of “disrupting the Afghan peace talks”. We also get a similar accusation from Karzai’s office. From today’s Washington Post, there is this:

“Known and secret enemies of peace in Afghanistan continue sabotaging our peace process,” Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, said Thursday. He did not specify who he thought was responsible, but Afghan officials often accuse neighboring Pakistan of abetting insurgents and stymieing peace efforts.

In that regard, it is very interesting to see an opposition political figure in Pakistan speaking out today against Pakistan’s military supporting the Afghan Taliban: Continue reading

Hot and Cold Running Bandar

Yesterday, just weeks after the time Al Arabiya announced Prince Bandar bin Sultan would resume his duties as head of Saudi intelligence (and therefore the mastermind of the Saudi-backed effort to oust Bashar al-Assad), Bandar was replaced by a little-known deputy.

He had resumed his position in March, just two days before the President visited the Kingdom.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan is on his way back to Riyadh where he will resume his tasks as head of Saudi Intelligence,reported news portal NOW Lebanon.

An informed Saudi source confirmed the report to Al Arabiya News.

“This is without doubt bad news for Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah, particularly that anti-Saudi media has been propagating false information for the past two months that Prince Bandar’s absence has been due to his dismissal and due to a Saudi decision to back away from its policies regarding the regional conflict,” said the source in Riyadh.

The source confirms that Prince Bandar has actually been away due to medical reasons, however, he has resumed his activities this week from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh; where he has been recovering and where he has met with former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed.

But today he’s out.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been relieved of his post at his request, the official Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

The royal decree announcing that Prince Bandar was stepping down as president of General Intelligence gave no reasons for the move. He has been replaced by General Yousef Al Idrissi, the decree said.

I’m not sure anyone knows what these tea leaves mean. It may be that the “shoulder” injury Bandar had been treated for remains a serious health issue. It may be that — as one piece suggested — he retains some power here and has not ceded it back to Mohammed bin Nayef, who had taken over before Bandar’s return in March. It may be that this and King Abdullah’s designation of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in succession were done to time with Obama’s visit, to signal that America’s more favored successor, Mohammed bin Nayef, was not going to take over any time soon.

But it also comes among two other developments that may be related. First, since about the beginning of the year and increasingly in recent weeks, the Saudis are actually cracking down on terrorism, both real — including those who went to fight in Syria — and imagined. Perhaps the former, too, was a show for the US. But it did seem to reflect some concerns that Saudi efforts in Syria were increasing security concerns for the Kingdom (as well as other countries in the region and not).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that the same day that Bandar got “sacked” videos started showing opposition figures in Syria with US made anti-tank missiles, which is the kind of thing Bandar has decades of experience arranging. We’ll see whether those disappear like Bandar or represent a new escalation of efforts to oust Assad.

Who Nabbed Mutasim Agha Jan in Dubai?

While the mainstream press finally catches up to the fact that there were indeed hundreds of violent attacks on election day in Afghanistan (even though hippies could find the data over a week ago), there is yet another disturbing development in the efforts to hold talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban. I noted nearly a year ago that Mutasim Agha Jan was beginning to bring some attention to a more moderate faction within the Afghan Taliban. He was successful in getting discussions going with the Afghan High Peace Council, but one of his associates, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar in February just after returning from a negotiating session in Dubai. It has now been confirmed that Mutasim Agha Jan has disappeared while in Dubai as he was preparing for another round of talks there. Here is ToloNews on the disappearance:

Agha Jan, who was one of the few crucial Taliban figures that had direct contact with the HPC, lived in Turkey and recently disappeared during a tour to the UAE.

“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is aware of Agha Jan’s disappearance in the UAE,” MoFA spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mustaghna said on Monday.

There are rumors about the possibility that Agha Jan may have been abducted. MoFA has not released a statement in regards to the rumors, but has called the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ambiguous and questionable.

Over the past month, Agha Jan had met with the HPC delegation twice; both sides had agreed to continue peace discussions.

There is a very interesting bit of language in the Khaama Press story on the disappearance:

The ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan confirmed that the former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has gone missing in United Arab Emirates.

Foreign ministry spokesman, Shekib Mostaghni told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan officials have started negotiations with the UAE officials regarding the fate of Agha Jan Mutasim.

Mr. Mostaghni further added that the government of Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to take practical steps to find out Agha Jan Mutasim.

Normally, I would attribute that bit about “negotiations with UAE officials” as poor translation from an initial story about Afghan officials speaking to UAE officials simply to ask questions. But there is also this report in the Express Tribune:

Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.

The Express Tribune article also makes it clear that he has been missing for quite a while:

After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing in the UAE. “The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to senior Emirati officials to know his fate,” spokesman Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.

“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any more details,” Mustaghni told a weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.

So it would indeed appear that Afghanistan may be in some sort of negotiations with UAE on the fate of Mutasim. But since we don’t have confirmation yet that he actually is under UAE control, we could be back to the list of suspects I discussed in the death of Abdul Raqib also being suspects in this case as well (but read here for a pretty strong argument that Taliban hardliners were responsible for Raqib’s death). I will keep an eye out for further developments on Mutasim’s location and safety.

The Horrors! West Point 2014 Graduates Must Advance Careers Without Combat Deployment!

How can our country mistreat its best and brightest so mercilessly?

How can our country mistreat its best and brightest so mercilessly?

Oh, the poor class of 2014 at the United States Military Academy! This morning’s New York Times brings us the tragic news that this year’s class graduating from West Point must somehow find a way to advance their military careers without being deployed to a combat zone. What could our politicians be thinking to so senselessly deprive our “best and brightest” the chance to get those colorful “coveted combat patches on their uniforms”? Why did they pass up the chance to invade Syria? Can’t they send troops quickly to Ukraine? Get with it, Washington, these poor cadets need you:

For the first time in 13 years, the best and the brightest of West Point’s graduating class will leave this peaceful Hudson River campus bound for what are likely to be equally peaceful tours of duty in the United States Army.

“It started to hit home last year, when we started considering what we really wanted to do, and realized that there’s a much more limited opportunity to deploy,” said Charles Yu, who is majoring in American politics and Chinese. Cadet Yu, who will graduate this spring, is going into military intelligence in South Korea, where he hopes to get experience helping to manage the long-running conflict between North and South Korea. He will work at Camp Red Cloud near the demilitarized zone, or, as he put it, “as close as you can get to the DMZ.”

For Cadet Yu and the rest of the class of about 1,100 cadets, there may be few, if any, coveted combat patches on their uniforms to show that they have gone to war. Many of them may not get the opportunity to one day recall stories of heroism in battle, or even the ordinary daily sacrifices — bad food, loneliness, fear — that bind soldiers together in shared combat experience.

The end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan mean that the graduates of the West Point class of 2014 will have a more difficult time advancing in a military in which combat experience, particularly since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been crucial to promotion. They are also very likely to find themselves in the awkward position of leading men and women who have been to war — more than two million American men and women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — when they themselves have not.

But buck up, young soldiers! There is precedent for how to advance your careers in such desperate times:

Two months after graduation, Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, a graduate of Dickinson College and daughter of Army General William Knowlton, who was superintendent of West Point at the time.

Get on it, soldiers! I don’t know their marital status or ages, but it appears that the current commandant has both a son and a daughter, so choose your target appropriately.

British Captain Resigns from Military to Publish Book on Helmand Failures

Today marks the launch in London of a book titled “An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012″. The book’s author is Dr. Mike Martin. Until Monday, he was known as Captain Mike Martin. In order to publish the book, however, he resigned from the military when it refused to grant him permission to publish the book, which the military ironically had initially commissioned from Martin.

From the Guardian:

A captain in the Territorial Army has resigned after a dispute with the Ministry of Defence over a book he has written that is critical of the conduct of the campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The MoD commissioned the book by Dr Mike Martin, but took exception to parts of the account. The dispute has gone on for more than a year.

In a statement, the MoD said it “has a strong record of learning from previous campaigns and encourages its officers to challenge existing norms and conventional wisdom. However, the publication of books and articles by serving military personnel is governed by well-established policy and regulations. When these are breached, the MoD will withhold approval.”

We get more from BBC:

Mr Martin studied Helmand for six years and completed an Army-funded PhD at King’s College in London.

He told the BBC Nato troops did not understand the “complexities” of Afghan tribal conflicts and were “manipulated” by tribal leaders fighting over land and water.

“This meant that we often made the conflict worse, rather than better,” he wrote in the study.

Mr Martin said he was originally told his final thesis could not be published as a book because it made use of secret cables published by Wikileaks and classified materials.

But for now it looks as though his resignation will make it possible for Martin to go ahead with the book launch:

But he denied the book contained any intelligence material that was not in the public domain.

Last week, he was then told by his commanding officer that he was “not authorised to published the book”.

He resigned on Monday and will launch the book in London on Wednesday night.

The MoD said the department had accepted the material in the book did not contravene the Official Secrets Act.

More information on the book and Martin’s research for it is found in the King’s College announcement for a seminar tomorrow:

An Intimate War tells the story of the last thirty-five years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In theWest, this period is often defined through different lenses—the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.

This book—based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pushtu—offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the mainstream. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent—precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.

Dr. Mike Martin is a Pushtu speaker who spent almost two years in Helmand as a British army officer (covering Operation HERRICKs 9-16). During that time, he pioneered and developed the British military’s Human Terrain and Cultural Capability—a means to understanding the Helmandi population and influencing it. He also worked as an advisor to several British commanders of Task Force Helmand. His previous publications include A Brief History of Helmand, required reading for British commanders and intelligence staff deploying to the province. He holds a doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London.

Well, at least Martin didn’t have to leak his book to Rolling Stone to get it published. Informing the military of its own mistakes and hubris never seems to go well.  As we are seeing now with Mike Martin in the UK and saw previously with Daniel Davis in the US, the military takes active steps to block such publications. And then sometimes it even goes so far as retroactively classifying material that is found to be embarrassing. I hope to get a chance to read Martin’s book. From the description, it sounds as though it may well take a similar cultural approach to the analysis of green on blue killing that lead to the retroactive classification of “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf).

Is there any higher heroism than disrupting one’s own career in the spreading of truth?

High Urban Turnout, No Major Violence, But How Successful Was Afghan Election?

With no catastrophic attacks taking place and reports of over 7 million people voting, on first impressions it would appear that Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday was a resounding success. Digging a bit deeper, though, reveals disturbing evidence of hundreds of violent incidents that received little attention and large areas of the country where the electorate was too scared of the Taliban to vote. Another large cautionary note is that the slow rate of vote counting means that it will be a long time before there can be any meaningful analysis of the extent of vote-stuffing. Further, the US goal of a new president clearing the way to a signed Bilateral Security Agreement is likely to be put off further, as any runoff will not happen until late May, which could well be past the point at which the US will have to decide if it will invoke the zero option and withdraw all troops from the country at the end of the year.

The New York Times gives us the rosy version of the voting:

After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

Even this report, though, cautions that fraud could still be a problem and will take time to detect:

Afghan election observers backed up the numbers offered by election officials, as did Western diplomats, though the latter struck a more cautious tone. But both said that some votes would invariably be thrown out because of fraud.

The question was how many, and whether Afghanistan would see a repeat of the 2009 election, which was marred by widespread ballot stuffing and other fraud. Turnout that year was about 38 percent, though some estimates put it lower. The memory of what happened that year still hovers here, giving many reason to hesitate before declaring this weekend’s vote an unqualified success.

It took days for the full extent of the problems with the 2009 election to emerge, and the ensuing political crisis lasted months, souring relations between President Karzai and the United States, embittering many Afghans and helping fuel a Taliban insurgency that was gaining momentum.

But the claims of no large attacks overshadowed the news that there were actually hundreds of attacks aimed at the voting:

The anti-government armed militants carried out 690 attacks across the country during the presidential and provincial council elections on Saturday.

Defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi said Saturday that the attacks by militants included direct fire, rocket attacks, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide attacks.

/snip/

Azimi also added that 164 militants were killed and 82 others were injured during the attacks while Afghan army soldiers seized various types of weapons belonging to the assailant militants.

He said at least 7 Afghan national army soldiers were martyred and 45 others were injured during these attacks.

That Khaama Press account did not cite figures on civilian deaths or injuries, but this Reuters article does note some civilian deaths: Continue reading

Afghan Policeman Kills AP Photographer Niedringhaus, Wounds Reporter Gannon

This photo of Niedringhaus accompanies the AP story on her death.

This photo of Niedringhaus accompanies the AP story on her death.

Yesterday, in noting the large deployment of Afghan security personnel for Saturday’s presidential election, I wondered in an aside how well these troops had been screened, since a large contingent of them were described in the Afghan press as “fresh”. Sadly, a police unit commander in the Tanai District on the outskirts of Khost turned his gun on a vehicle occupied by AP photographer Anje Niedringhaus and AP reporter Kathy Gannon. Niedringhaus was killed and Gannon is being treated for at least two bullet wounds but is said to be in stable condition. Early reports suggest that the police officer who opened fire was not a recent recruit and was taken into custody when he surrendered immediately after the incident.

AP provides details on Niedringhaus’ Pulitzer Prize-winning career:

Niedringhaus covered conflict zones including Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank during a 20-year stretch, beginning with the Balkans in the 1990s. She had traveled to Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Niedringhaus, who also covers sports events around the globe, has received numerous awards for her works.

She was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography for coverage of the war in Iraq, and was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. She joined the AP in 2002 and had since been based in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2006 to 2007, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism at Harvard University.

Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in her hometown in Hoexter, Germany at the age of 16. She worked for the European Press Photo Agency before joining the AP in 2002, based in Geneva. She had published two books.

Reporter Kathy Gannon is also experienced in war zones and Afghanistan particularly:

Gannon, 60, is a Canadian journalist based in Islamabad who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the AP since mid-1980s.

She is a former Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the author of a book on the country, “I Is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan.”

The New York Times has one of the more complete descriptions of the attack that I have seen:

Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon had spent Thursday night at the compound of the provincial governor in Khost, and had left on Friday morning with a convoy of election workers delivering ballots to an outlying area in the Tanai district, The A.P. and Afghan officials said.

The convoy was protected by the Afghan police, soldiers and operatives from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, said Mubarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial government. Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were in their own car, traveling with a driver and an Afghan freelance journalist who was working with the news agency.

After the convoy arrived at the government compound in Tanai, Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were waiting in the back seat for the convoy to start moving again when a police commander approached the car and looked through its windows. He apparently stepped away momentarily before wheeling around and shouting “Allahu akbar!” — God is great — and opening fire with an AK-47, witnesses and The A.P. said. His shots were all directed at the back seat.

Ms. Niedringhaus was killed instantly.

The police commander, identified by the authorities as Naqibullah, 50, then surrendered to other officers and was arrested. Witnesses said he was assigned to the force guarding the government compound and was not one of the officers traveling with the election convoy.

I have written extensively on the issue of green on blue killings, where Afghan forces attack US forces. It would appear that this is the first instance, though, of Afghan security personnel turning fire on Western members of the press. The Times addresses the insider killing aspect in relation to previous events: Continue reading

Afghanistan Staggers Toward Election

Saturday will mark the first time Afghanistan has gone to the polls to choose a new president since the US overthrew the Taliban and put Hamid Karzai in charge. This will hardly be an accomplishment to herald in the US press, although I am sure the military will attempt to get major outlets to tout it as so after the fact. In fact, even the rosy “look what has been accomplished in Afghanistan” fluff piece published today in Khaama Press cites a paltry list of accomplishments, such as 50 television stations and not quite half a million Afghans on Facebook. Tellingly, though, a closer look reveals that the piece is attributed to Dr. Florance Ebrahimi. It turns out that even though she is originally from Kabul, she practices in Sydney. And why shouldn’t she? Afghanistan is tied with North Korea and Somalia at the very bottom of the list when countries are ranked for their level of corruption. And it appears that even before the election takes place, ten percent of the planned polling stations have been closed due to security concerns. And what of the candidates? The top three are profiled here by the New York Times.  All three of the leaders have already pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year–and thus assuring the maximal continuing flow of US funds to fuel even more corruption. The candidates are noteworthy to me only in that two of them have running mates that would rival Dick Cheney as the most notorious war criminal to be Vice President of a country in the past 15 years.

Today’s New York Times piece cited above on the closure of polling places due to anticipated violence is devastating. For example:

One of the few polling centers in this part of Logar Province is the government’s district headquarters, a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office.

As the body count for security forces has risen over the past few days in this embattled district, a stretch of dusty farmland surrounded by mountains, it has become clear that no one here is going to vote on Saturday, either for president or for provincial council delegates.

So far, that has not stopped security officials from proclaiming the district open for voting: It is not among the roughly 10 percent of 7,500 total national sites shut down as too dangerous to protect. The Charkh district center has been pumped full of security forces to keep the vote a nominal possibility, but residents know that within a day or two after the elections, the guards will be gone and the Taliban will remain.

“The government has no meaning here,” said Khalilullah Kamal, the district governor, who was shot two times in the stomach a few months back while speaking in a mosque. “If there is no expectation that we will arrest people who break the law, then how do we expect the people to come and vote?”

Think about that. The polling place in this passage looks like a bomb shelter and life has gotten so violent there that it is clear nobody will vote there Saturday. And yet this site isn’t included among the 10 percent of sites that won’t be open Saturday. Further, “government has no meaning here” reflects the utter failure of US efforts to establish a unified government in Afghanistan. But does that apply only to a small area? Hardly. Consider that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated back in October that it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to SIGAR  (pdf) to carry out oversight functions (and the State Department warned them that the 21 percent figure may be overly optimistic) by the end of this year.

Since the US has already formally handed over security operations to the Afghans, what are they doing to make the election safe? On Tuesday they announced that 60,000 “fresh” (I presume this means newly trained? How well were they screened?) Afghan National Army troops were deployed across the country for election security. Then, on Wednesday, the figure was increased to 195,000 total security personnel when ANA figures were joined with security personnel from the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security. That’s quite a force. So for roughly 7500 polling stations, that gives about 26 security personnel guarding each site if they are distributed evenly. Oh, and to protect Westerners before the election, places where they tend to gather have been closed.

Whatever the outcome on Saturday, I see little reason to be optimistic that there will be any improvement in living conditions for the average Afghan citizen.

Billion Dollar Boondoggle: Israel’s Iron Dome Misfires

Schematic of Iron Dome missile defense system. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Schematic of Iron Dome missile defense system. $1.3 billion price tag removed. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Less than two weeks after the US announced yet another $429 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system (which had already gotten over $900 million from the US), the system malfunctioned badly on Tuesday, resulting in the firing of two interceptor missiles by the system. The mishap frightened citizens in Eilat, where the incident took place around 7:30 am. Iran was quick to note the event and picked up on an important point: initial reports inside Israel claimed another “success” from the Iron Dome system, saying three rockets were incoming to Eilat and two of them were destroyed. The report later was withdrawn and the firing was blamed on an accident. Here is Fars News on the incident:

Israel’s Iron Dome missile system ‘accidentally’ fired interceptor rockets into the Red Sea resort city of Eilat in Southern Negev.

Eilat residents were panicked early on Tuesday morning following a series of explosions that also sent Israeli forces scrambling to find the source of the booms, press tv reported.

The Israeli army initially presumed that a rocket attack had occurred in the area.

Initial reports said three Grad rockets were fired at the resort town. They claimed two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome while the third one exploded in an open area.

However, the army later claimed that the attacks were really a false alarm caused by an error at the Iron Dome site near the city.

An army spokesperson said the explosions were caused by two Iron Dome anti-missile projectiles accidentally fired at around 7:30 am (0530 GMT).

PressTV took things a bit further, stating that Israel’s bluffing about the capabilities of Iron Dome is meant to deter enemies. So did Israel initially claim that rockets had been intercepted? That does appear to be true. In my searching for news stories on this event, I found a story on Debka.com. The story now reads like this:

The loud explosions heard in Eilat early Tuesday came from Iron Dome which accidentally ejected two rockets. They were earlier accounted for erroneously by another Grad attack on Israel’s southernmost town from Sinai.

But the Google remembered that Debka had originally described things differently. Here is how the story was displayed by Google in the search results (as an aside, whatever happened to the “cached copy” option that used to show up on Google?):

Google result Debka

It turns out that despite cheerleading about Iron Dome from obvious sources like the US Missile Defense Agency and the Heritage Foundation, there are serious questions about just how well the system works and whether Israel has been falsely inflating its capabilities. Just over a year ago, the New York Times looked into how well Iron Dome functions. They found significant problems:

After President Obama arrived in Israel, his first stop on Wednesday was to inspect an installation of Iron Dome, the antimissile system hailed as a resounding success in the Gaza conflict in November. The photo op, celebrating a technological wonder built with the help of American dollars, came with considerable symbolism as Mr. Obama sought to showcase support for Israel after years of tensions over Jewish settlements and how to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

/snip/

Israeli officials initially claimed success rates of up to 90 percent. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, hailed the antimissile system as the first to succeed in combat. Congress recently called the system “very effective” and pledged an additional $680 million for deployments through 2015.

But a growing chorus of weapons experts in the United States and in Israel say their studies — based largely on analyses of hits and misses captured on video — suggest that Iron Dome destroyed no more than 40 percent of incoming warheads and perhaps far fewer. Many rockets, they argue, were simply crippled or deflected — failures that often let intact or dying rockets fall on populated areas.

The story continues:  Continue reading

Has Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security Infiltrated the Taliban?

As we get into the final days before voting begins on Saturday for Afghanistan’s presidential election, the biggest question aside from the issue of who will win is whether the Taliban will succeed in its determination to disrupt the election through violence and intimidation. Rapidly unfolding events today represent either a remarkable combination of good work and good luck by Afghan authorities or the product of an infiltration of the Taliban by the National Directorate of Security, which is Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Breaking news stories today inform us of Afghan forces capturing 22 tons of explosives from a Taliban hideout in Takhar province, the deaths of six Taliban commanders when a suicide vest went off “prematurely” (in Logar province) and the deaths of 16 Taliban commanders when a suicide bomber is said (by the NDS) to have developed differences with the leaders and decided to turn on them, exploding his suicide vest in Ghazni province.

Reuters brings us the story of the captured explosives:

Afghan security forces have seized more than 22 tons of explosives, enough to make hundreds of bombs, the interior ministry said on Tuesday, four days before a presidential election.

Taliban insurgents have declared war on the April 5 vote, calling it a Western-backed sham and threatening to disrupt it.

“This discovery will prevent hundreds of bomb attacks and would have a significant impact on the overall security of the elections,” Sediq Sediqqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, told Reuters.

/snip/

Sediqqi said the explosives, hidden in some 450 bags, were seized from a basement in the relatively peaceful northern province of Takhar, where the Taliban have gained ground in recent years.

What remarkable timing! Just four days before the election, Afghan forces find a huge cache of explosives in a “relatively peaceful” province. Four days would not have been a lot of time to produce the hundreds of bombs and distribute them to voting stations, but that is still a lot of dangerous material to be removed from use.

Moving south of Kabul to Logar province, we have this story of a suicide vest apparently going off too soon:

At least six Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide blast in eastern Logar province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.

According to NDS officials, the incident took place around 12:30 pm local time in Charkh district.

The officials further added that the Taliban commanders were looking to prepare a suicide bomber for an attack when the suicide bombing vest went off.

Hmm. It’s the NDS and not local police who are cited by Khaama Press in this story.

For the story of the suicide bomber deciding to attack the Taliban instead of voters, here is more from Khaama Press:

At least 16 senior Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide attack in eastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Afghan Intelligence – National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the incident took place in a Taliban leaders gathering in Gelan district.

National Directorate of Security (NDS) following a statement said the Taliban leaders were planning coordinated attacks in Ghazni province when a Taliban suicide bomber opposed with the Taliban leaders plans and detonated his explosives.

Wow. Sixteen senior Taliban commanders is a huge gathering for one spot. And isn’t it interesting that it would be during that gathering that a suicide bomber would suddenly become “opposed with the Taliban leaders plans” and decide to detonate his explosives, taking them all out? And on the very day of this event, NDS seems quite confident that the 16 killed were senior Taliban leaders. Further, the NDS even seems to already know that some of the Taliban leaders killed came from Pakistan.

So did Afghanistan get incredibly lucky today, with a premature explosion taking out 6 Taliban leaders and a difference of opinion leading to a suicide bomber changing sides to take out 16 Taliban leaders, or is there another explanation? It seems to me that we have to at least consider that the National Directorate of Security has been developing assets inside Taliban cells and is choosing this pivotal week as the time to put those assets into action. Such assets could have provided the key information leading to the discovery of the explosives cache. It is also possible that these assets could have gained control of the suicide vests that went off today, either as the suicide bombers themselves or through some form of remote control, creating the appearance of accidents or betrayals.

Whatever caused these events, when grouped together they represent a major setback for Taliban plans to disrupt the election. Will they be able to respond?

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bmaz @PhilPerspective @phillipanderson @JasonLeopold that ain't camping, that's just front porch drinking.
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bmaz @JasonLeopold @phillipanderson Get the fuck out and buy me the Allman's Beacon deal. Or I will keeel you.
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bmaz @misterdevans It is shocking. Trust me, she is gonna catch on at some point....
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bmaz @misterdevans Yes, she was, and is. Whether I am worth it to her is the better question perhaps.
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bmaz @misterdevans They were huge, but I had the horns loaded on the top vet space of the cabinet, so only maybe 2.5ft wide by 3ft tall.
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bmaz @misterdevans Wife also made me get rid or my Altec Voice of the Teaters. Sad, sad, day. Have only Polk Audio and B+W'monitors now.
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bmaz @misterdevans No clue how many I have now. Maybe 750+, maybe more. Jettisoned a bunch along the way (I'm married)
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bmaz @misterdevans Crap, I would have taken them!
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bmaz @newtonusr Ohhhhh. Well, if you put it THAT way: http://t.co/Si6l5m1Aqq
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bmaz @misterdevans Man, I'm anachronistic. I have tube driven amps+pre-amps and like old fashioned records. Met Mad Man Muntz once 8tracks sucked
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bmaz @AskZelda_ Zelda, should I walk my damn dog? It is pleasurable, but EVERY person in the hood knows her from my wife. Annoying. What to do?
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bmaz What did y'all buy at yer local vinyl stores on National Record Day? Cause I KNOW all you mopes bought a record or more today, right?
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April 2014
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