DTN News: Afghanistan TODAY May 9, 2010 ~ Kandahar Braces Itself For A Bloody Summer Offensive*The Taliban's more brutal treatment of civilians and Nato's response have raised the temperature – and the fear factor – as the fighting season approaches
Source: DTN News / Guardian.co.uk, John Boone in Kandahar (NSI News Source Info) KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - May 9, 2010: The coming of spring always brings an influx of Taliban fighters to the district of Zhari, where the young leaves on the grapevines and fruit orchards provide cover so thick that Nato's hi-tech thermal imaging cameras struggle to see the insurgents hiding within.
But this year things are different. The Taliban are back once again, but the locals who live in the area on the western doorstep of the city of Kandahar say they have arrived in far higher numbers than in previous years.
"Two months ago there were only around 30 in the area, but it has increased dramatically in the last two weeks," said Faiz Mohammad, a shopkeeper from the town of Sanzari in Zhari district.
"We now see hundreds of them, young teenage boys, led by older commanders. They are clean shaven and look like everyone else, except they carry good weapons and communications equipment."
It is a similar story in the nearby villages of Pashmol and Ashgho, locals say. According to one farmer, the fighters operate within just a few hundred metres of Nato bases. "They just come up and check we haven't met government officials and demand we give them food and money," said Bari Dad.
The young fighters, fresh from over the border in Pakistan, appear to be mustering in exactly the places where Nato expects to do some of its heaviest fighting this summer.
As they did before the major February operation in Marjah in Helmand, the insurgents are preparing for the onslaught by laying roadside bombs and mines in the areas where they expect to fight. But, unlike in the past, they now rarely tell the locals where they are buried, Dad said.
In what has been called the "cornerstone of the surge effort", June and July will see about 23,000 US, Canadian and Afghan troops attempt to clear Kandahar's rural hinterlands, focusing particularly on areas such as Zhari and the neighbouring district of Panjwai.
The hope is that by controlling these areas they will take the pressure off the beleaguered city of Kandahar and its estimated 500,000 citizens.
Nato talks of creating "rings of security" around the provincial capital. But inside the city a Taliban campaign of violence has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of panic and terror.
Sources throughout the vital southern province report similar stories of a higher than usual influx of fighters, including insurgents, passing through the district of Shah Wali Kot to the north and the area of Dand to the south. The Indian consulate in Kandahar also said it had received reports from locals from Maruf, a district on the border with Pakistan, that Taliban activity has "increased many-fold" compared with last year.
Pranav, a diplomat at the heavily fortified Indian consulate, said that insurgents appeared also to be moving in from neighbouring provinces, including Helmand, in preparation for a major Kandahar offensive.
Both sides are gearing up for a bloody summer. The head of the health department has set up an additional 100 beds for the city's main hospital, which previously held 330. Those beds are already full of the war wounded, including many suspected Taliban fighters.
Caught between the two sides, civilians are hoping to avoid the crossfire.
Mohammad Karim, a farmer from Ashgo, said: "The Taliban publicly executed a man in our village by hanging him from a tree and then shooting him. He was accused of passing information to the foreigners. Both sides are creating problems for us and we try to remain neutral."
Haji Abdul Haq, a tribal elder from Arghandab district, said people in his area were only interested in avoiding the fight. "The people only want peace and security; they don't care if it's provided by Isaf [the international security assistance force led by Nato] or the Taliban," he said.
A recent public opinion survey in Kandahar conducted for the US army found that despite their efforts to remain above the fray, most of the 1,994 people questioned sympathised with the insurgents' reasons for taking up arms against the government. Some 94% of respondents did not want foreign forces to start a new operation.
The US has already stepped up its secret war against the Taliban: special forces teams have been killing and capturing mid-level commanders and apparently squeezing the insurgents' supply chains.
But in recent weeks the Taliban have responded with an aggressive assassination campaign, bringing an unprecedented level of fear to the city.
Rumours are circulating that Taliban leaders in Pakistan have issued a "kill list" of officials who have been targeted – most of whom do not have any security to speak of.
Last month the city's deputy mayor was shot dead as he prayed in a mosque. A week earlier, a young Afghan woman employed by Development Alternatives, a company that works on US government construction projects, was gunned down as she travelled to work.
These developments have created a clear sense of fear, particularly among anyone connected with the government, Nato or any foreign organisation.
At a time when the US military is trying to bolster the provincial government's capacity to get things done, key staff members are trying to quit. One aide in the governor's office, who cannot be named, has handed in his resignation although it has not yet been accepted.
Some who leave government employment find that it is already too late: former interpreters for Nato soldiers have been targeted and killed, in one case more than a year after leaving the job.
One Afghan man, who cannot be named, said he quit his well-paid job at the International Committee of the Red Cross after receiving phone calls from acquaintances in Quetta, the frontier town in southern Pakistan where many Taliban live with their families, politely asking him not to work with the foreigners any more. When he argued that the Red Cross was a humanitarian organisation that famously strives to be neutral, he was told the Taliban believe that they share information with the Americans and cannot be trusted.
And the United Nations, which also describes itself as neutral, now considers its staff to be in such danger that on 27 April all foreign workers were hurriedly evacuated to Kabul and local staff told to remain at home after rumours that the UN compound was going to be attacked.
With the departure of the UN, there are very few foreigners still living in the city. When I checked into a heavily fortified guesthouse, the first thing the manager showed off was not the bedroom but a basement safe room and an escape route over the roof.
He was right to be cautious: just round the corner is the remains of a compound that housed a number of foreign companies working on US-funded projects. The building was largely destroyed on 15 April by a suicide bomber who drove a car packed with explosives into the front gate.
"They are trying to show who is the boss in Kandahar city, and it appears to be working," said Ganesh, the Indian diplomat.
The collapse in security and the increase in US military patrols have frightened locals who used to regard the city as a sanctuary from more dangerous outlying districts.
And foreign officials worry that operations in the surrounding districts will displace fighters into the city itself; urban warfare on the streets of Kandahar would be a disaster for the Nato strategy of trying to create security in areas where the population is most dense. Last week, Mark Sedwill, Nato's senior civilian representative, admitted that street to street fighting was a possibility.
"We are just in absolute despair," said one man from Arghandab district who had come into the city to shop. "People used to move their families into the city when there was fighting in the districts, but now that's not safe either. We really don't know where to go."
Despite the dire state of security in the city and its surrounding areas, there is widespread opposition among locals to a major military offensive, which, like the February operation in Marjah, has been well publicised in advance.
Nato hoped that this would encourage fighters to simply withdraw. But it has, in fact, given the Taliban time to thoroughly prepare the battleground with bombs and mines as well as terrifying the local population.
When Hamid Karzai visited the city at the beginning of April to talk to elders, most of them called on him to cancel the plan.
Last week Nato began trying to play down the military aspect of this summer's surge, saying it would prefer to call it a "process that is encompassing military and non-military instruments" rather than an "operation", or "offensive".
Others say that nothing will change until a solution is found for Kandahar's underlying problems of official corruption and tribes who feel excluded from power, which they say is controlled by a small oligarchy of businessmen-politicians.
Several Kandaharis I interviewed saw the Taliban insurgency in terms of rivalry between members of the largely excluded Gilzai tribe, which has always been heavily represented within the Taliban, and the traditional elite Durrani tribe to which Hamid Karzai belongs.
The claim is backed up by figures from the US military, showing that Durranis hold two-thirds of positions within the provincial government and 26 out of 34 district and police chiefs.
"Things will never get better unless the Ghilzai are more fairly represented," said Faiz Mohammad the shopkeeper from Zhari. "You cannot just ignore the needs of a major tribe like that."
DTN News: Pakistan TODAY May 9, 2010 ~ US Drone Strike In North Waziristan Kills 10Source: DTN News / AFP Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) MIRAMSHAH, Pakistan - May 9, 2010: A US drone fired two missiles into a militant compound in Pakistan's tribal area, a hotbed of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, killing at least 10 militants, local security officials said.
The strike targeted Inzarkas village, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Miramshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal district near the border with Afghanistan.
“The missiles struck a militant compound in the village, killing at least 10 rebels,” a senior Pakistani security official in the area told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another security official confirmed the strike and casualties but said the nationalities of those killed in the attack were not yet known.
“The compound became suspicious as it was being used by foreigners,” he said. “It was, however, not immediately known if any high-value target was present in the area at the time of attack.”
Pakistani officials use the term “foreigners” for Al-Qaeda linked militants operating in the tribal regions.
Waziristan was plunged back into the international spotlight following the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American charged with international terrorism in the attempted car bombing of New York's Times Square.
According to the US authorities, Shahzad admitted to receiving bomb-making training in Waziristan, in an area Washington describes as the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous region in the world.
US forces have been waging a covert drone war on the northwestern tribal belt, where militants have carved out havens in mountainous areas outside direct government control.
More than 900 people have been killed in over 100 drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2008.
DTN News: Indian Light Combat Aircraft Could Be Converted As UCAVSource: DTN News / Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) NEW DELHI, India - May 9, 2010: Indian Light Combat Aircraft could be converted as a Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). The second edition of Manas Defence year book 2101 – 2011 reveals that in addition to converting LCA into UCAV, there are tentative plans of weaponising Indian UAV’s.
Indian is currently working on medium and high altitude UAV’s. DRDO’s Lakshya and Nishant UAV’s are under various stages of testing and deployment by the users. The High Altitude Long Endurance UAV (HALE) has features like SATCOM links which will allow it to be operated beyond the line of sight.
The Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV (MALE) called Rustom draws upon the experience gained via the Nishant Tactical UAV program. MALE Rustom will feature canards and carry a range of payloads like ESM, Laser designators, optronic and radar. Rustom program will have a new engine and conventional take off and landing capability (CTOL). DRDO is carrying on with the developmental work unaffected by the recent crash of Rustom prototype. Rustom is expected to supplement or replace the Israeli made Heron UAV in Indian service.
DTN News: Russia TODAY May 9, 2010 ~ Combat Jets Paint Russian Flag In Skies Over Red SquareSource: DTN News / RIA Novosti
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW, Russia - May 9, 2010: Russian Su-25 Frogfoot military jets 'painted' a tricolor Russian national flag flying over Red Square during a military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The parade, which started at 10.00 Moscow time [06.00 GMT] and continued for about an hour and a half, was the biggest military parade in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A total of 127 aircraft divided in 20 groups took part in a ceremonial flyover.
Su-25 ground support aircraft and MiG-29 fighters flew in a setup formation resembling number 65 in reference to the anniversary.
Other aircraft displayed during the parade included Il-76 and An-124 military transport planes, accompanied by multirole Su-27 fighters, Il-78 aerial tankers, an A-50 AWACS plane, Tu-95MS Bear and supersonic Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers.
Russia's Yak-130 combat trainers, Su-34 multirole strike aircraft and Mi-26 heavy transport helicopters flew over the Kremlin for the first time.
A large helicopter group included Mi-24, Mi-28 and Ka-50 attack helicopters, and Mi-8 transport helicopters.
Victory Day on May 9 marks the final surrender by Nazi Germany to the U.S.S.R. in WWII, which is often referred to as the Great Patriotic War in Russia and other states from the former Soviet Union.
DTN News: The Missiles Are Coming
Source: DTN News / Haaretz By Zvi Bar'el
(NSI News Source Info) JERUSALEM, Israel - May 9, 2010: A rational country would have done the arithmetic long ago and understood that by continuing to hold on to the Golan Heights, the chances of a confrontation would simply grow.
Here's a bit of arithmetic. Take the number of Hezbollah's Scud missiles and Katyusha rockets and add the number of Iranian-made Zelzal rockets and Shihab-3 missiles, and divide by 7.5 million. How many missiles are there for every Israeli?
And now for geometry. Draw three circles around Tel Aviv; the first will mark the Shihab's range, the second the Scud's and the third the Katyusha's. Assuming that an attack on Israel would be coordinated between Iran, Hezbollah and Syria, would you advise Hezbollah to fire only Scuds and conserve its Katyushas? Or maybe you would advise Iran to fire Shahabs and let Hezbollah conserve its Katyushas? Justify your answers based on your place of residence and the missile range.
The fear rained down on us by Military Intelligence research chief Yossi Baidatz, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ("Hezbollah has more missiles than most governments" ), Jordan's King Abdullah ("A war could break out this summer" ) and many military analysts leaves Israel with the all-too-familiar feeling that it has no choice but to launch a preemptive attack. Suddenly it turns out that it's not the Iranian nuclear program that poses an existential threat, but rather the various kinds of missiles. And the terrified country is already preparing public opinion and the army for the next confrontation.
Indeed, there is a balance of terror between Israel and its neighbors, whose purpose is deterrence. That's what every rational country does when it feels threatened and can't find a nonmilitary alternative. No doubt, Israel is threatened, but so are Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It's enough to listen to Israel's threats to "take Syria back to the Stone Age," "destroy Lebanon's civilian infrastructure" or smash Hamas to understand that the style of the Israeli threat approaches that of Iran. If anyone should be waking up in the morning in a cold sweat, it's the Lebanese, Syrians and Gazans, not the Israelis.
Nevertheless, even though Syria has suffered military blows from Israel, it continues to act "impudently," and Lebanon, which was pounded in war, has stepped up its threats. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza did not stop Hamas from arming itself. And in the West Bank, the occupation forces have not completely neutralized the threat.
But unlike Israel, which sees the threat but forgets the catalyst, each of its neighbors has territory under Israeli occupation, each has a legitimate national claim to get its occupied land back. Anyone looking for a nonviolent alternative can find it well-packaged and waiting to be used, but it's merely getting wet in the rain.
"[Syrian President Bashar] Assad wants peace but doesn't believe [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu," Baidatz told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But his words were lost in the alarming description of the number of missiles in Hezbollah's hands. Because even though we understand weapons, and we consider Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah a household name, and we assemble and dismantle centrifuges every day, we lose our way when it comes to the peace process.
Baidatz didn't explain how it's possible to gain Assad's confidence, and he wasn't asked, just as he wasn't asked whether returning the Golan Heights to Syria under agreed conditions could neutralize the Syrian-Lebanese-Hezbollah threat. These questions are too dangerous to ask to someone from the army - he just might propose a diplomatic solution.
But it's possible to answer for him. Peace with Syria might neutralize the military threat from that country, stop Hezbollah from arming and put Iran in a confusing situation, even if it doesn't break off its relations with Syria. Peace with Syria and the Palestinians would also change Turkey's position and neutralize the hostility between Israel and the other Arab countries.
In short, the military threat would lose a great deal of its punch. A rational country, even one not seeking peace - and Israel, after all, is not one - would have done the arithmetic long ago and understood that by continuing to hold on to the Golan Heights, the chances of a confrontation would simply grow. It would have understood that the threat does not lie in the circles that mark the missile range but in those territories it continues to occupy.