Sunday, November 16, 2008

Afghanistan offers Taliban chief safe conduct

Afghanistan offers Taliban chief safe conduct (NSI News Source Info) KABUL, Afghanistan - November 16, 2008: Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered Sunday to provide security for the Taliban's reclusive leader if he agrees to enter peace talks, and suggested that the U.S. and other Western nations could leave the country or oust him if they disagree. Karzai's comments come as international political and military leaders are increasingly mulling whether negotiating with the Taliban is necessary as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan. Karzai has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream on the condition that they accept the country's constitution.
"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices, remove me or leave if they disagree," Karzai said in an hourlong news conference in Kabul. "If I am removed in the cause of peace for Afghanistan by force by them, than I will be very happy. If they disagree, they can leave. But we are not in that stage yet," Karzai said. Omar is a leader of the Afghan Taliban and headed the government toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, he has been in hiding but is believed to be running the insurgency. Previously, Karzai has said that Omar lives in neighboring Pakistan, an allegation dismissed by Pakistani officials. Record levels of violenceSeven years after the invasion, record levels of violence are afflicting Afghanistan, where the number of insurgent attacks are up by 30 percent compared to 2007. The Taliban are present in large parts of Afghanistan's south and east and are increasingly encroaching on Kabul, the capital. In September, Taliban members met with Afghan and Pakistani officials during a dinner hosted by Saudi Arabia's king, but there were no concrete results from the meeting. "If I hear from (Mullah Omar) that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace and for the well-being of the Afghans so that our children are not killed anymore, I as a president of Afghanistan will go to any length to provide protection," Karzai said. Omar has not directly responded to these calls, but spokesmen associated with the Taliban have previously said their participation in any talks depends on the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from the country. Karzai dismissed that, saying foreign troops are necessary for Afghanistan's security.

Russia Unique An-124 Condor Long-Range Heavy Transport Aircraft

Russia Unique An-124 Condor Long-Range Heavy Transport Aircraft (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: The An-124 Ruslan, designed by the Antonov ASTC, based in Kiev, Ukraine, is a very large cargo aircraft. It is manufactured by Aviant State Aviation Plant, Kiev, and Aviastar, Ulyanovsk, Russia. "The An-124 is designed for long-range delivery and air dropping of heavy and large-size cargo." The aircraft, which has the NATO reporting name Condor, is designed for long-range delivery and air dropping of heavy and large size cargo, including machines, equipment and troops. The An-124 entered service in 1986 and over 55 aircraft have been built. The Russian Army operates 28 An-124 aircraft.
The Antonov Design Bureau maintains some of its An-124-100, among them UR-82009, that operate international freight services
The unique transport capabilities and the high performance of the aircraft have been proven in operation. 20 An-124-100 of Antonov Airlines, Volga-Dniepr, Poliot and other airlines transport different cargoes all over the world; for example: 90t hydraulic turbines, large Liebherr autocranes, American Euclid dump trucks, the fuselage of Tu-204 passenger transporter, a 109t railway locomotive, and a sea yacht more than 25m long. Volga-Dniepr Airlines of Russia has ten An-124 aircraft. Polet Airlines of Russia operate eight An-124 aircraft. Aviant State Aviation Plant in Kiev completed an An-124-100 from parts in stock which was sold to the United Arab Emirates in 2004. Seven An-124-100 aircraft were operated by Antonov Airlines, based at London Stansted Airport, in partnership with Air Foyle HeavyLift. Antonov Airlines did not renew the contract for this partnership in June 2006 2006 and has signed an agreement with Volga-Dniepr Airlines and Aviastar for the modernisation and construction of the An-124. In September 2004, the governments of Russia and the Ukraine announced that series production of the An-124 would be restarted. Up to 80 An-124-100M upgraded aircraft are to be jointly manufactured by Aviastar and Aviant between 2007 and 2020. Volga-Dnepr Airlines placed an order for five An-124-100M in August 2005. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2010. Supplemental type certification was received for the aircraft in June 2007, allowing operations with 402t maximum take-off weight and 150t maximum payload. AN-124 DESIGN The aircraft fuselage has a double-deck layout. The cockpit, the relief crew compartment and the troop cabin with 88 seats are on the upper deck. The lower deck is the cargo hold. The flight deck has crew stations arranged in pairs for six crew: the pilot and copilot, two flight engineers, the navigator, and the communications officer. The loadmaster's station is located in the lobby deck. Up to 80An-124-100M upgraded aircraft are to be manufactured between 2006 and 2020. The An-124 aircraft is fitted with a relatively thick (12%) swept-back super-critical wing to give high aerodynamic efficiency and, consequently, a long flight range. The construction includes extruded skin panels on the wing, extruded plates for the centre-section wing panels and monolithic wafer plates for the fuselage panels. The aircraft structural members are made of composites that make up 1,500m² of the surface area. Multi-leg landing gear and loading equipment ensure self-sufficient operation of the aircraft on prepared concrete runways and on unpaved strips. The landing gear is self-orienting and incorporates a kneeling mechanism, which allows an adjustable fuselage clearance to assist the loading and unloading of self-propelled equipment. CARGO SYSTEMS The onboard system of cargo handling equipment makes it possible to load and unload the aircraft without the help of ground facilities. The para-dropping and cargo handling equipment comprises two travelling cranes, two winches, rollgang and tiedown equipment. The aircraft is often compared to the US Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy. The An-124 has a transportation capability 25% higher than that of the C-5A and 10% higher than the C-5B. The two cargo hatches are a distinctive structural feature. The fuselage nose can be hinged upward to open the front cargo hatch and there is a cargo hatch in the rear fuselage. AVIONICS All systems are quadruple redundant. The onboard equipment provides the capability to execute airlift and para-drop missions by day and at night, in Visual Flight Rules and Instrument Flight Rules (VFR and IFR) weather conditions. There are 34 computers functioning aboard the aircraft, combined into four main systems: navigation, automatic piloting, remote control and monitoring. The integrated flight control and aiming-navigation system comprises an autonomous navigation system, altitude and air-speed indicating system, combat formation flight control equipment, short-range radio navigation and landing system, global positioning system, automatic radio compass, ground surveillance radar, forward-looking weather radar, optical and TV sight, and IFF equipment. Multi-leg landing gear and loading equipment ensure self-sufficient operation. AN-124-210 AND AN-124-100M Antonov, Aviastar and Air Foyle of the UK have jointly submitted a proposal to the UK MoD for leasing of new versions, the An-124-210 and An-124-100M. An-124-210 will be equipped with a Rolls-Royce RB211-52H-T engine; An-124-100M with Series 3 D-18 engines, produced by Progress Design Bureau in Zaporozhe. These engines allow an increase in service range of 10% and reduced take-off distance. Both versions will be equipped with digital instrumentation and displays from Honeywell of the USA and Aviapribor of Russia, enabling the crew size to be reduced from six to four. Also fitted are a Traffic alert Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS 2000), ground proximity warning system and satellite communications system.

Italian Missile Boats For Iraq Navy

Italian Missile Boats For Iraq Navy (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: Iraq has paid Italy $105 million to build four 400 ton offshore patrol boats. The first of these been completed and the Iraqi crew is undergoing training in Italy. The Italian patrol boats are based on the Saettia Mk. 4 missile patrol boat. These ships carry a crew of 38 (including a dozen marines for boarding ships). Top speed is about 70 kilometers an hour, and they can stay at sea for about a week. Armament of the Iraqi version consists of a 30mm automatic cannon and two machine-guns. But the most important aspect of all this is whether corrupt officials can be kept under control, so that the new patrol boats will get the fuel and spare parts needed to keep them at sea.

Iran's Credit Squeeze

Iran's Credit Squeeze (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: Economic problems are getting worse. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where much of Iran's foreign trade is handled, local banks are refusing to do business with the 10,000 Iranian trading firms based there. This has caused delays and cancellations of Iranian imports (over $9 billion worth from the UAE last year) and exports. This is being felt by the rule elite in Iran. There, the large extended families of the clerical leadership live the good life, and the goodies come in via the UAE. The sudden shortages of iPods, flat screen TVs, automobiles and bling in general, has been noticed in Iran, and is not appreciated. The falling price of oil is producing another problem, national bankruptcy. The government admits that if the price of oil falls below $60 a barrel (which it has) and stays there (which it may, at least until the current recession is over), the nation will not be able to finance foreign trade (which is already having problems with increasingly effective U.S. moves to deny Iran access to the international banking system), or even the Iranian economy itself. The latter problem is largely self-inflicted, as president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad desperately borrows money to placate his few (heavily armed and fanatical) followers (about 20 percent of the population). The rest of the population has been in recession for years, and is getting increasingly angry over Ahmadinejad's mismanagement. Some 80 percent of Iran's exports are oil. November 13, 2008: In northwestern Pakistan, an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped, and his bodyguard killed. Iran invoked the Vienna convention of political immunity of diplomats, and insisted the Pakistan take aggressive action to free the diplomat. November 11, 2008: The government claims to have test fired a new, two stage solid fueled ballistic missile, with a range of 2,000 kilometers. If true (and there are some doubts), this would not change much. Iran already has over fifty older Shahab 3, liquid fuel, ballistic missile, which also have a range of 2,000 kilometers. Iran has bought the technology to produce solid fuel rockets (basically slow burning explosives, but made in such a way that they provide precise power for any kind of rocket), and has been increasing its capabilities in this area for about a decade. November 10, 2008: There are still 2.8 million Afghans living in the country, and only 35 percent of them are there legally. The rest have come to Iran to take jobs Iranians won't do, or simply to escape the banditry and drug lords that dominate western Afghanistan. Many of these Afghans have lived most of their lives in Iran, having fled Afghanistan in the 1980s to escape the invading Russians. This large Afghan population provides cover for numerous criminal gangs, especially those involved in the heroin trade. Some 90 percent of the worlds heroin and opium comes from Afghanistan, and about a third of that is exported via Iran. This has led to a small war being fought in the Iran-Afghan border. November 8, 2008: Sixty Iranian economists (mostly academics) signed an open letter to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticizing his economic policies. The economists also criticized Ahmadinejad's nuclear weapons and foreign policy, which has brought about increasingly effective sanctions. The economists condemned current government policies that do little to promote economic growth. What was not mentioned in the letter was the corruption and diversion of vast sums to the few Iranians who support the government. But everyone already knows that. And those who talk about it in public go directly to jail. November 6, 2008: The U.S. has cut off all Iranian access the U.S. banking system. This is a big deal, because many transactions, like Internet traffic, have to at least pass through the U.S. banking system in order to be completed. Now it's even more difficult (time consuming and costly) for Iranians to do business overseas. Iran currently imports about $60 billion worth of goods a year (up from $21 billion in 2003). November 4, 2008: In another blow to the religious radicals that control the Iranian presidency, the more moderate parliament removed the Interior Minister, who had been caught claiming to have a degree from Oxford University, when he did not. Normally, this sort of resume enhancement would be overlooked. But president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made himself very unpopular with his radical policies (especially economic ones, which have been generally more destructive than constructive.) To make matters worse, a presidential aid was also dismissed, for attempting to bribe members of parliament to back off from impeaching the Interior Minister. Ahmadinejad rose to power by opposing corrupt practices. But since he has reached the top, he has changed. This has been noticed. November 3, 2008: Nationwide celebrations were held to commemorate the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in the capital. This was a serious breach of international law, but is still celebrated in Iran as a national victory. This is one of the reasons why all subsequent attempts (numerous and frequent) to negotiate with the Iranians have failed. The Iranians believe that international law is an inconvenience, and does not really apply to a nation on a Mission From God (converting everyone on the planet to the Shia brand of Islam.) Foreign diplomats keep hoping the Iranian government will change its mind and play by the rules. But so far, no joy. November 1, 2008: The government is buying fifty An-148 transports from Ukraine. These aircraft are similar to the Boeing 737, and can carry about 80 passengers up to 5,000 kilometers. They cost about $20 million each. The An-148s can also move troops and military cargo around. October 31, 2008: Iranian merchant ships, which largely handle cargo moving between other countries (the many trade sanctions placed on Iran for misbehavior make trade directly with Iran difficult), have been ordered to obtain barbed wire, and place it on the railings of the main deck, if the ship is moving through the Gulf of Aden. Most Iranian cargo ships do, as most Iranian trade still moves through the Suez canal (which is reached by going through the Gulf of Aden and then into the Red Sea.) Crews have been ordered to post extra lookouts whenever the barbed wire is deployed, so the Somali pirates can be spotted in time to have the ship speed up and possibly outrun the pirates. October 29, 2008: The government announced the opening of a new naval base near the port town of Jask, which is located at the entrance to the Persian Gulf (the Straits of Hormuz). This is not a big deal, because the Iranian Navy is a patchwork of obsolete, and largely unreliable warships, and over 200 armed speedboats. There are fewer than 30 "major" warships (over 1,000 tons displacement), led by three Russian Kilo class subs and some ancient destroyers. Iran constantly announces new ships, built in Iranian shipyards, but intense searches via Google Earth (and travelers passing Iranian naval bases with cell phone cameras) have failed to detect most of these vessels. Given the Iranian tradition of announcing new weapons that never show up, it is believed that the Iranian navy is what it appears to be, not much. The hundreds of speed boats are, however, often manned by religious fanatics capable carrying out suicide missions. Many of these speed boats can carry several hundred pounds of explosives, in addition to several suicidal Iranian sailors. This makes each speed boat the equivalent of an anti-ship missile. However, all the Western and Arab warships in the region (which far outstrip the Iranians in numbers and combat power) practice dealing with suicidal speedboats. Thus the Iranian navy is a danger only if you are dumb enough to not plan and practice how you can deal with it.

Pakistan Facing Militants At Home-ground

Pakistan Facing Militants At Home-ground (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: It is the new front line in Pakistan's battle against terrorism. The bucolic Swat Valley, just 90 miles from the capital Islamabad, was until eight months ago a popular tourist haven, but now it's a war zone, where Pakistan army has launched a stepped-up military campaign to confront a major threat from Islamic radicals. The militants have made major inroads, taking over villages that mount little or no resistance, kidnapping and beheading Pakistani soldiers, and promoting an extreme form of Islamic rule right on the Pakistani capital doorstep.
Pakistani troops patrol in Mingora, the main town of Pakistan troubled Swat valley, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008. Pakistani helicopter gunships involved in a bitter offensive against militants in a northwestern tribal region struck targets in a neighboring area Sunday, a sign that the conflict may be widening to other parts of the rugged zone bordering Afghanistan.

Russian frigate prevents foreign vessel seizure by pirates

Russian frigate prevents foreign vessel seizure by pirates (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - November 16, 2008: The Russian Neustrashimy (Fearless) frigate prevented the seizure of a foreign vessel flying the Saudi flag by pirates off Somalia's coast on Sunday, Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said. "The Rabikh vessel, sailing some 30 miles from the Neustrashimy, was attacked by several high-speed pirate boats," Dygalo said. The Neustrashimy entered waters off the Somali coast in late October. Somali pirates have attacked around 60 ships so far this year, resulting in the seizure of around 30 vessels. The East African nation has been without a functioning government since 1991 and has no navy to police its coastline. A Ukrainian ship, the Faina, carrying tanks and heavy weaponry was seized by Somali pirates on September 25. The pirates have demanded an $8-million ransom in exchange for the release of the Ukrainian-Russian crew. The Faina's Russian captain died of a heart attack after the vessel was seized. The pirates holding the ship have threatened to kill the hostages if a military operation is launched against them. Food and water supplies on board the vessel, which has been held for seven weeks, are reportedly running critically low. NATO and the EU have recently announced plans to increase their naval presence in the Gulf of Aden. About 20,000 vessels pass through the region annually. In early June, the UN Security Council passed a resolution permitting countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters to combat "acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

Tanker with 18 crew, including Russian, freed off Somalia

Tanker with 18 crew, including Russian, freed off Somalia (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - November 16, 2008: Somali pirates released the Stolt Valor tanker on Sunday with 18 crewmembers, including a Russian national, the Russian maritime journal Sovfrakht reported. The tanker was seized two months ago off Somalia's coast. The other crewmembers are Indian nationals. "The negotiations were lengthy and difficult, as the pirates used their usual tactics to exert pressure on the ship-owners via the public, in this case via India," the journal said. According to the journal, none of the sailors were harmed after two months in captivity, and the details of their release are unknown. Western media reported on Sunday that a ransom of over $1 million was paid for the release of the Stolt Valor and its crew. Pirates are increasingly active in the waters off Somalia, where more than 60 ships have been attacked so far this year resulting in the seizure of around 30 vessels. The East African nation has no effective government and no navy to police its coastline. The Russian frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless) recently joined international naval group, which has surrounded a Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, which was seized by Somali pirates on September 25. The Faina's Russian captain died of a heart attack after the vessel was seized. The pirates holding the ship have demanded an $8 million ransom, and have threatened to kill the hostages if a military operation is launched against them. Food and water supplies on board the vessel, which has been held for seven weeks, are reportedly running critically low.

U.S. Supply Line Threatened by Pakistan Truck Halt

U.S. Supply Line Threatened by Pakistan Truck Halt (NSI News Source Info) PESHAWAR, Pakistan — November 16, 2008: A Pakistani decision to temporarily bar some trucks from a key passageway to Afghanistan threatened a critical supply route for U.S. and NATO troops on Sunday and raised more fears about deteriorating security in the militant-plagued border region. The suspension of oil tankers and trucks carrying sealed containers came as U.S.-led coalition troops in eastern Afghanistan reported killing five Al Qaeda-linked fighters and detaining eight others, including a militant leader. Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are behind much of the escalating violence along the lengthy, porous Afghan-Pakistan border, and both nations have traded accusations that the other was not doing enough to keep militants out from its side. The tensions come as violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest levels since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001 and as a surge in U.S. missile strikes on the Pakistani side of the border has prompted protests from Pakistan government leaders. Last Monday, a band of militants hijacked around a dozen trucks whose load included Humvees headed to the foreign forces in Afghanistan. Renewed security concerns prompted officials to impose the temporary ban late Saturday, government official Bakhtiar Khan said. He said it could be lifted as early as Monday.

Trucks which are loaded with supplies for U.S. and NATO forces are parked in Peshawar, November 16, 2008. Pakistan will reopen a main supply route to Western forces in Afghanistan on Monday, a week after militants hijacked more than a dozen trucks on the road through the Khyber Pass, a senior official said on Sunday

Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, acknowledged only that "the appropriate authorities are coordinating security procedures." "The convoys will continue flowing. We will not discuss when, or where, or what," he said. Denied entry to the route, dozens of the trucks and oil tankers were parked along a main road near Peshawar, the regional capital. Asked about security fears, Rehmatullah, a driver who gave only one name and said his truck was carrying a military vehicle of some sort, said, "This is our job, and we have to do it, but yes, we have a security risk every time we pass through the route." Many of the supplies headed to foreign troops arrive in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in unmarked, sealed shipping containers and are loaded onto trucks for the journey either to the border town of Chaman or the primary route, through the famed Khyber Pass. Last week's ambush took place at the entrance to the pass. Police said around 60 masked militants forced the convoy to stop briefly trading fire with nearby security officers. U.S. officials say the attackers seized two Humvees and a water truck. Several trucks carrying wheat for the World Food Program were also hijacked. While critical of U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan's northwest tribal regions, both Pakistan's prime minister and president denied any plans to subvert the supply line as a pressure tactic in recent interviews with The Associated Press. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, a U.S.-led coalition raid late Saturday in eastern Paktia province's Zurmat district nabbed and killed the Al Qaeda-associated insurgents, according to a military statement. The detained Al Qaeda associated militant leader is accused of assisting the Taliban with the movement and training of Arab and other foreign fighters into Afghanistan, the coalition statement said without identifying him. A homicide car bomber on Sunday struck a NATO convoy in the northern Baghlan province, killing one civilian and wounding 12 other people, officials said. Two NATO soldiers were among the wounded, said a spokesman for the force, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity. In western Herat province Sunday, two U.S. troops were wounded when a homicide car bomber struck their convoy, said Col. Greg Julian, the spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. In southern Afghanistan, a NATO soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Saturday, the military alliance said. It did not give the soldier's nationality or the exact location of the attack. Also Saturday in eastern Khost province, coalition and Afghan troops detained a militant leader of the network led by an Afghan insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. "During the combined operation, the force discovered 10 additional males believed to be militants and seeking safe haven as they move into Terezai district to conduct attacks," coalition statement said. The United States once supported Jalaluddin Haqqani as a "freedom fighter" when he fought against the former Soviet Union's 1980s occupation of Afghanistan. He and his son Sirajuddin are now considered a main threat against U.S. forces and their allies in eastern Afghanistan. Attacks in Afghanistan are up 30 percent from 2007, military officials say. More than 5,400 people — most of them militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to a tally of official figures provided to the AP.

North Korea Is The Only Stalinist State In The World

North Korea Is The Only Stalinist State In The World (NSI News Source Info) SEOUL - November 16, 2008: North Korea on Saturday rejected South Korea's proposal for talks as mere "wordplay" and insisted Seoul should first scrap military exercises. South Korea called this week for talks with North Korea to ease worsening tensions after the North ratcheted up the pressure on Seoul with a vow to close their common border. The proposal for dialogue is "nothing more than wordplay" to avoid responsibility for aggravating relations, Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling party newspaper, said in a commentary.
A North Korean Army soldier watches the South Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 13. North Korea's intransigence over verification of its nuclear program is likely aimed at extracting more aid from the countries seeking to disarm the Stalinist state, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said
South Korea should first stop its "provocative" war games, which aggravated inter-Korean relations and hurt "the mood of dialogue and peace," it said. After months of frosty relations, the North this week announced it would shut the border from December 1 in protest at what it called Seoul's policy of confrontation. A total border closure would cripple the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial complex, a joint project built in the North as a symbol of reconciliation. The North also closed its Red Cross office in the border village of Panmunjom and cut the organisation's phone lines there. The North has said it is also protesting Seoul's failure to honour inter-Korean summit agreements in 2000 and 2007. And it is furious at the spreading of propaganda leaflets across the border by Seoul activists, and has previously threatened to expel South Koreans from Kaesong in protest. Seoul says it has asked activists to stop launching balloons laden with leaflets but cannot legally bar them. Relations soured after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak took office in February. He promised to take a firmer line with the North after a decade-long "sunshine" engagement policy under his liberal predecessors.

Greek-Turkish navy standoff over Norwegian survey ship ends-official

Greek-Turkish navy standoff over Norwegian survey ship ends-official (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: A standoff between a Greek and a Turkish navy ship in the Aegean over a Turkish-sponsored oil prospecting survey ended on Saturday after the operation was called off, Greek officials said. A Norwegian survey ship commissioned by the Turkish government to conduct the search was departing after Greek officials complained to Norwegian and Turkish authorities, the Greek foreign ministry said. "Under the international convention on the law of the sea, a large part of this area includes a continental shelf (seabed) belonging to Greece," foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said in a statement. The Norwegian ship, the Malene Ostervold, on Friday began prospecting for oil in the southeastern Aegean near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, escorted by the Turkish frigate Gediz, Koumoutsakos said. A standoff ensued when a Greek gunboat was dispatched in the area to impress "that this sort of research requires permission from Greek authorities," the Greek general staff said. The Malene Ostervold departed shortly after midnight after the Norwegian ambassador had been summoned by the Greek foreign ministry, but returned early on Saturday morning, the general staff said. The incident ended after Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis called her Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store, Koumoutsakos said.

Sri Lanka steps up air strikes after capturing town

Sri Lanka steps up air strikes after capturing town (NSI News Source Info) November 16, 2008: Sri Lanka has stepped up air attacks against suspected rebel targets in the island's north, a day after ground troops re-captured a highly strategic town, the defence ministry said. Mi-24 helicopter gunships and fighter jets were deployed to pound defence lines of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Jaffna peninsula and on the mainland, the defence ministry said. "Sri Lanka air force has launched a series of air strikes in support of ground troops in the Muhamalai area," the ministry said in a statement. The attacks came a day after Sri Lanka's president asked Tamil Tiger rebels to surrender after troops said they had re-taken the town of Pooneryn from the separatist guerrillas following months of heavy fighting. President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a televised address to the nation that security forces took Pooneryn and the main north-western coastal A-32 route on Saturday morning (local time). The town was taken by troops after several failed attempts during 15 years of Tiger occupation. Military officials said the fall of Pooneryn was a severe blow to the Tigers who are defending their main de facto capital of Kilinochchi, further south-east, amid a multi-pronged military thrust. "Despite all their efforts, they failed in their bid to hold Pooneryn," the Sunday Times defence analyst Iqbal Athas said. "That it was a humiliating defeat for the guerrillas came from radio intercepts from the battle field." The fall of Pooneryn shrank Tiger territory by about half and prevented the rebels from using the north-western seaboard to smuggle weapons and other supplies by boat from neighbouring India, military officials said. They said the bigger advantage for the military was the removal of Tiger artillery guns at Pooneryn which had been used to hit the main Palaly airbase in the Jaffna peninsula and disrupted regular military flights. The military has not given details of losses suffered by either side in the battle for Pooneryn, but Mr Athas said both sides had suffered "very heavy casualties" in the fighting. The Government is banking on a military victory against the Tamil Tiger rebels after pulling out of a moribund Norwegian-arranged truce in January.

Is Pakistan an asset or a liability in the war on terror?

Is Pakistan an asset or a liability in the war on terror? (NSI News Source Info) WASHINGTON – November 16, 2008: For seven years, the Bush administration has pursued al-Qaida but done almost nothing to hunt down the Afghan Taliban leadership in its sanctuaries in Pakistan, and that's left Mullah Mohammad Omar and his deputies free to direct an escalating war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The administration's decision, U.S. and NATO officials said, has allowed the Taliban to regroup, rearm and recruit at bases in southwestern Pakistan. Since the Islamic movement's resurgence began in early 2005, it's killed at least 626 U.S.-led NATO troops, 301 of them Americans, along with thousands of Afghans, and handed President-elect Barack Obama a growing guerrilla war with no end in sight. Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest levels since 2001; the Taliban and other al-Qaida-allied groups control large swaths of the south and east; NATO governments are reluctant to send more troops; and Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces an uncertain future amid fears that elections set for next year may have to be postponed. Still, a U.S. defense official told McClatchy: "We have not seen any pressure on the Pakistanis" to crack down on Omar and his deputies, and close their arms and recruiting networks. Like seven other U.S. and NATO officials who discussed the issue, he requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. "There has never been convergence on a campaign plan against Mullah Omar," said a U.S. military official. The Bush administration, he said, miscalculated by hoping that Omar and his deputies would embrace an Afghan government-run reconciliation effort or "wither away" as their insurgency was destroyed. Many U.S. and NATO officials, in fact, are convinced that while Pakistan is officially a U.S. ally in the war against Islamic extremism, sympathetic Pakistani army and intelligence officers bent on returning a pro-Pakistan Islamic regime to Kabul are protecting and aiding the Taliban leadership, dubbed the Quetta shura, or council, after its sanctuary in the Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta. Wounded Taliban fighters are treated in Pakistani military hospitals in Baluchistan, and guerrillas who run out of ammunition have been monitored dashing across the frontier to restock at caches on the Pakistani side, the U.S. and NATO officials said. "They have free rein down there," said a senior NATO official. Omar, the one-eyed founder of the Taliban movement that imposed Islamic rule on Afghanistan with Pakistani and al-Qaida support during the 1990s, and bin Laden fled to Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Bin Laden and his followers crossed into the Federally Administered Tribal Area, which borders eastern Afghanistan. Omar and his lieutenants crossed into Baluchistan, which abuts the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, the heartland of the Taliban insurrection, U.S. officials said. From Baluchistan, Omar and his council are believed to direct the Taliban's broad military and political strategies and to arrange arms and other supplies for their fighters in southern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. They preside over military, intelligence, political and religious committees, and also oversee a fund-raising operation in the Pakistani port city of Karachi that raises money across the Muslim world, said a Pentagon adviser on the region, who asked not to be further identified. Baluchistan also is a major corridor through which Afghan opium, which is refined into heroin, is smuggled to the outside world, providing the Taliban with $60 million to $80 million a year. The Bush administration, however, has focused virtually all of its attention, funds and energy on routing al-Qaida in the FATA because it considers bin Laden and his organization the main terrorist threat to the United States and its allies, U.S. officials said. A senior official denied that the administration has ignored the Quetta shura in Baluchistan, saying it's pressed Islamabad to act at every high-level meeting. Pakistan has cooperated in operations that killed three top Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, he added.
Pervez Musharraf
Due to one after the other blunders Musharraf has become a part of the problem. Under the emergency the attacks on the judiciary and the media of the country are the most unbecoming acts of the man who claims to believe in the supremacy of law and freedom of press. If HE continues, terrorism will increase rather than decrease. Therefore it is in everyone's interest to provide the cornered and desperate General a safe passage and let democracy start and take roots in Pakistan.
The latest rumor (5 Nov) from Pakistan is that the president is confined to his residence. If it is true then it means a change. Whether that change is for a worse or a better future for Pakistanis largely depends on the West. However the prevailing reality is that on the streets of Pakistan the situation is deteriorating fast. The scenes of merciless baton attacks on the protesting lawyers, the media and the public are frightening. The attacking police, in uniform and in plain cloths, seem to have no regard for the limb or life of the protesters. These scenes of extreme violence cannot be seen in Pakistan as the dictator has cut the lines of the local media outlets. For expatriates and others, GEO TV channel is the best source of information. You don't have to know Urdu, just watch the footage and see what is meant by merciless baton attacks by the police. On this channel there are occasional periods of brief coverage in English also. Not surprisingly in this case the BBC news bosses have "carefully" censored the particularly vicious scenes of random beatings and baton attacks on the helpless demonstrators by the police. The verbal statements of condemnations of the emergency are coming in thick and fast from the West. But the blatant state violence against pro democracy demonstrators is not mentioned and thus seems to have the approval of the West by default. If honest in its reactions the West should explicitly condemn the use of violence by the state against the demonstrators. Still, this is not enough, as unless the condemnations actually result in the reversal of all the illegal acts of Musharraf, the people of Pakistan will not be impressed by them. The present situation offers an opportunity to the West to establish its non-existent credibility among Pakistanis and it is the need of the hour too. Support for the rule of law, respect for the constitution and democracy now will go a long way to do that. People of Pakistan want democracy to take roots in Pakistan, as worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship. Those who claim that the West has no part in what goes on in the Muslim world should excuse themselves from the debate about the Muslim world. They are like those Muslims who believe that the 9/11, the Madrid Bombings and the 7/11 atrocities had nothing to do with Muslims. The West not only interferes in the affairs of the Muslim world but it also dictates to and in some cases effectively runs some Muslim countries. Further, the trouble with the West regarding the Muslim world is its double standards. It talks of human rights and various freedoms but as far as the Muslim world is concerned it supports those who curtail those very rights and freedoms. It engages the rulers and ignores the people of the Muslim world when it should engage both. The people of Pakistan are very loyal and hospitable people. They are also proud and emotional people. Their western media created image is wrong. Ask those Westerners who have lived in or visited Pakistan and they will speak very highly of the people of Pakistan. It is in the news that as a reaction to the emergency the UK and the US governments may stop the economic aid to Pakistan when the Pentagon has announced that the military aid will not be affected. Is it the right approach to the crises? It looks like a reward to the dictator and tyrant who has fired and arrested eminent judges, who were hearing the petitions on constitutional issues, the lawyers, who were fighting for the independence of the judiciary and for the rule of law, hundreds of politicians of the opposition, human rights workers and their leaders, who are against the imposition of the emergency. The very human rights workers whose role is otherwise always supported by the West. Tens of Judges, retired or sitting, who have refused to take a new oath, have been put in jails or they are under house arrest. In his speech on the 4th the president complained that the judges had ordered the release of "terrorists" but today the very two judges belonging to the two-judges bench that ordered the release have taken the new oath! The list of the categories of the people who have been arrested is long and diverse. Any cuts in the economic aid to Pakistan will hurt the people of Pakistan and will be seen as a punishment for the pro democracy Pakistani public. What message the above-described western approach will give to the people of Pakistan is a question for those who claim to be working to win the hearts and minds of Pakistanis?

Pakistan blocks U.S. convoy route

Pakistan blocks U.S. convoy route (NSI News Source Info) ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - November 16, 2008: Pakistan has indefinitely blocked travel for convoys, carrying food and military supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, through a key mountain pass.
Armed militants pose next to a captured armored vehicle near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
The decision to suspend travel through the Khyber Pass in northwest Pakistan was taken due to security concerns, said Gula Jan, a security official in Khyber Agency, on Sunday. The mountain pass links Pakistan to its neighbor, Afghanistan. It is in the Khyber Agency, one of seven semiautonomous tribal agencies along the Afghan border. Because Afghanistan is landlocked, many supplies for NATO-led troops fighting Islamic militants there have to be trucked in from Pakistan. Officials said militants aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda have carried several attacks there. The Pakistani central government has little control in the area, and the area is believed to be a haven for militants. On Tuesday, as many as 60 to 70 armed militants launched back-to-back assaults on convoys. The militants seized 13 trucks -- 12 carrying wheat into Afghanistan as part of a World Food Programme convoy, and one transporting Humvees to the U.S.-led coalition, Khyber Agency officials said. Jan said the decision to suspend travel came after local leaders met with representatives of some of the shipping firms. He said trucks will be allowed through the pass once the security situation improves, but did not specify a date. Dozens of trucks idled by the side of roads Sunday in the Khyber Agency and in Peshawar waiting for the greenlight.