Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7260 on: Aug 31st, 2012, 09:11am »
Two Afghan children beheaded in separate incidents
By Mirwais Harooni Fri Aug 31, 2012 8:33am EDT
KABUL (Reuters) - An adolescent boy and a young girl have been beheaded in two separate incidents in Afghanistan, local officials and police said on Friday, in the latest brazen attacks that have raised fresh questions about a splintering Taliban.
A 12-year-old boy was kidnapped and killed in southern Kandahar province on Wednesday, his severed head placed near his body to send a warning to police, said provincial governor spokesman Jawid Faisal.
The brother of the boy, neither of whom were named by officials, was a member of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a U.S.-trained militia charged with making Afghans in Taliban strongholds, like Kandahar, feel more secure, Faisal said.
"It's a Taliban warning to the ALP and to others who support the government," Faisal said of the killing, which happened in Kandahar's Panjwai district.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf denied the group was involved.
Separately, a 6-year-old girl was beheaded in eastern Kapisa province on Thursday, said provincial police chief Abdul Hamed.
"We are not sure if she was beheaded by her family or the Taliban, but we know the Taliban control the area," Hamed said of the killing in Jalukhil village. He added that he could not send investigators to the area out of fears for their safety.
The murders follow the shooting or beheading of 17 young revelers attending a party in southern Helmand province this week, which officials said was the work of the Taliban, a charge the group also denied.
That massacre raised fresh concerns about Taliban leaders' grip on their scattered fighters, amid on-again, off-again peace moves by the group with the Afghan government.
It also suggested that there are grassroots insurgent fighters who are not in a mood for compromise.
"What we're seeing could be a new tactic by the Taliban to behead civilians to intimidate the population," said Faisal.
In Kandahar's Zhari district, officials also said on Friday that a 16-year-old boy accused by the Taliban of spying for the government was beheaded and skinned in late July.
Such incidents highlight the difficulty that Taliban leaders have in enforcing discipline across an estimated 20,000 fighters spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
The central Taliban leadership is trying to improve the group's image in case it wants to push forward tentative reconciliation steps and perhaps even enter mainstream politics. But some militant units are hard to control, roaming the countryside and attacking those deemed immoral.
NATO will withdraw most of its combat troops by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan forces in the lead security role.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7261 on: Aug 31st, 2012, 09:16am »
Justice closes CIA probe without charges
By Greg Miller Published: August 30 Updated: Friday, August 31, 2:00 AM
The Justice Department said Thursday that it would not file charges in connection with the deaths of two prisoners held in CIA custody a decade ago, closing the last active criminal investigation into the agency’s treatment of prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The decision marks the culmination of a criminal probe that took nearly five years, examined the treatment of about 100 prisoners and branched out far beyond its initial scope — but ultimately produced no charges against any CIA officer.
In a statement, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signaled that the decision had more to do with the difficulties of assembling evidence — from incidents that had happened years earlier in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq — than with a conclusion that no crime had occurred.
The department has “declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” Holder said.
Nevertheless, the news was welcomed by the CIA as a long-awaited opportunity to move past a period in the agency’s history that had put dozens of officers in legal jeopardy.
“Today’s announcement brings the two remaining cases to a close,” CIA Director David H. Petraeus said in a statement to agency employees. He said the agency’s cooperation with the investigation was “important” despite an inclination “to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past.”
One of the cases involved the death of an Afghan, Gul Rahman, who was being held at a CIA facility known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was allegedly doused with water and left out in frigid overnight weather to die.
The second involved an Iraqi, Maadel al-Jamadi, who was apprehended by U.S. special operations troops before being interrogated by CIA officers at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison compound in Iraq in 2003.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the decision as “yet another entry in what is already a shameful record” of the Justice Department.
“That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement. “The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, and the interrogators who used it.”
The identities of the CIA officers involved in the cases have not been publicly disclosed.
The investigation of the deaths was led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, who had expanded the scope of a probe begun in 2008 of the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes. The tapes inquiry was also closed with no criminal charges.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7262 on: Aug 31st, 2012, 09:19am »
First Implantation of Prototype Bionic Eye With 24 Electrodes: 'All of a Sudden I Could See a Little Flash of Light'
ScienceDaily (Aug. 31, 2012)
In a major development, Bionic Vision Australia researchers have successfully performed the first implantation of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes.
Ms Dianne Ashworth has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. She has now received what she calls a 'pre-bionic eye' implant that enables her to experience some vision. A passionate technology fan, Ms Ashworth was motivated to make a contribution to the bionic eye research program.
After years of hard work and planning, Ms Ashworth's implant was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute, while researchers held their breaths in the next room, observing via video link.
"I didn't know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash...it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye," Ms Ashworth said.
Professor Emeritus David Penington AC, Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia said: "These results have fulfilled our best expectations, giving us confidence that with further development we can achieve useful vision. Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to 'build' images for Ms Ashworth. The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices."
Professor Anthony Burkitt, Director of Bionic Vision Australia said: "This outcome is a strong example of what a multi-disciplinary research team can achieve. Funding from the Australian Government was critical in reaching this important milestone. The Bionics Institute and the surgeons at the Centre for Eye Research Australia played a critical role in reaching this point."
Professor Rob Shepherd, Director of the Bionics Institute, led the team in designing, building and testing this early prototype to ensure its safety and efficacy for human implantation. Cochlear technology supported aspects of the project.
Dr Penny Allen, a specialist surgeon at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, led a surgical team to implant the prototype at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
"This is a world first -- we implanted a device in this position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach. Every stage of the procedure was planned and tested, so I felt very confident going into theatre," Dr Allen said.
The implant is only switched on and stimulated after the eye has recovered fully from the effects of surgery. The next phase of this work involves testing various levels of electrical stimulation with Ms Ashworth.
"We are working with Ms Ashworth to to determine exactly what she sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose built laboratory at the Bionics Institute. The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information.
"Having this unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it evolves through 2013 and 2014," Professor Shepherd said.
How it works
This early prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light. Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera -- yet. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.
Researchers continue development and testing of the wide-view implant with 98 electrodes and the high- acuity implant with 1024 electrodes. Patient tests are planned for these devices in due course.
About Bionic Vision Australia
Bionic Vision Australia is a national consortium of researchers from the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, NICTA, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.
The National Vision Research Institute, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and the University of Western Sydney are project partners.
The project brings together a cross-disciplinary group of world-leading experts in the fields of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering and materials science, neuroscience, vision science, psychophysics, wireless integrated-circuit design, and surgical, preclinical and clinical practice.
This research is funded by a $42 million grant over four years from the Australian Research Council (ARC) through its Special Research Initiative (SRI) in Bionic Vision Science and Technology.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7263 on: Aug 31st, 2012, 09:24am »
Deep-sea Baltic UFO hunt turns up mere rocks
By Natalie Wolchover Published August 31, 2012
A feature on the floor of the Baltic Sea that was discovered last summer by Swedish treasure hunters is making headlines once again.
The latest media coverage draws upon an hour-long radio interview with Peter Lindberg, head of the Ocean X Team (which made the "discovery"), in which Lindberg delivers a string of cryptic and titillating statements about the "strange" and "mysterious" seafloor object his team has been exploring for a year.
Lindberg discusses various possibilities for what the object might be: "It has these very strange stair formations, and if it is constructed, it must be constructed tens of thousands of years ago before the Ice Age," he said in the radio interview. (The peak of the most recent Ice Age occurred some 20,000 years ago.)
"If this is Atlantis, that would be quite amazing," he said. Atlantis is a mythical underwater city referred to in ancient legends.
Lindberg acknowledges that the object could instead be a natural formation, such as a meteorite that penetrated the ice during the Ice Age, or an underwater volcano; however, he gives the impression that scientists are baffled by it. Geologists, for example, have supposedly told him the object "cannot be a volcano."
Also adding titillation, Lindberg says a documentary is being made about the seafloor anomaly — the location of which he has not disclosed — and he's saving some juicy details for the footage. "We're not telling everything," he said. "We will reveal some quite interesting things in the documentary."
The divers recently gave samples of stone from the object to Volker Brüchert, an associate professor of geology at Stockholm University. Swedish tabloids quote Brüchert as saying: "I was surprised when I researched the material I found a great black stone that could be a volcanic rock. My hypothesis is that this object, this structure was formed during the Ice Age many thousands of years ago."
In other words, an expert appears to back up their claims that this seafloor object is unexplained, and perhaps is an Atlantis-like ancient building complex. To double check, Life's Little Mysteries consulted that expert. Turns out, neither he, nor any of the other experts contacted about the Baltic Sea object, think there is anything mysterious about it.
"It's good to hear critical voices about this 'Baltic Sea mystery,'" Brüchert wrote in an email. "What has been generously ignored by the Ocean-X team is that most of the samples they have brought up from the sea bottom are granites and gneisses and sandstones."
These, he explains, are exactly what one would expect to see in a glacial basin, which is what the Baltic Sea is — a region carved out by glacial ice long ago.
Along with the mundane rocks, the divers also gave him a single loose piece of basaltic rock, a type of rock that forms from hardened lava. This is out of place on the seafloor, but not unusual. "Because the whole northern Baltic region is so heavily influenced by glacial thawing processes, both the feature and the rock samples are likely to have formed in connection with glacial and postglacial processes," he wrote. "Possibly these rocks were transported there by glaciers."
Glaciers often have rocks embedded in them. At the end of the Ice Age, when glaciers across Northern Europe melted, the rocks inside them dropped to the Earth's surface, leaving rocky deposits all over the place. These are sometimes called glacial erratics or balancing rocks.
Lindberg and the Ocean X Team did not respond to a request for comment on the glacial deposit theory.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7266 on: Aug 31st, 2012, 4:13pm »
USO Entertainer Martha Raye
The most unforgivable oversight of TV is that her shows were not taped.
I was unaware of her credentials or where she is buried. Somehow I just can't see Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, or Jessica Simpson doing what this woman (and the other USO women, including Ann Margaret & Joey Heatherton) did for our troops in past wars.
Most of the old time entertainers were made of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activist whiners.
The following is from an Army Aviator who takes a trip down memory lane: "It was just before Thanksgiving '67 and we were ferrying dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku. We had run out of body bags by noon, so the Hook (CH-47 CHINOOK) was pretty rough in the back.
All of a sudden, we heard a 'take-charge' woman's voice in the rear. There was the singer and actress, Martha Raye, with a SF (Special Forces) beret and jungle fatigues, with subdued markings, helping the wounded into the Chinook, and carrying the dead aboard.
'Maggie' had been visiting her SF 'heroes' out 'west'. We took off, short of fuel, and headed to the USAF hospital pad at Pleiku. As we all started unloading our sad pax's, a 'Smart Mouth' USAF Captain said to Martha.... "Ms Ray, with all these dead and wounded to process, there would not be time for your show!"
To all of our surprise, she pulled on her right collar and said ......"Captain, see this eagle? I am a full 'Bird' in the US Army Reserve, and on this is a 'Caduceus' which means I am a Nurse, with a surgical specialty....now, take me to your wounded!"
He said, "Yes ma'am.... follow me."
Several times at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku, she would 'cover' a surgical shift, giving a nurse a well-deserved break.
Martha is the only woman buried in the SF (Special Forces) cemetery at Ft Bragg.
UFO 'Secrets' To Be Revealed In September, Says National Atomic Testing Museum
Posted: 09/01/2012 6:20 am by Lee Speigel
In just a few weeks, some kind of UFO-related secrets will be revealed at a Smithsonian Institution affiliated museum.
That's the implied promise in the title of a special lecture coming up at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas on Sept. 22.
The secrets haven't yet been revealed, but the players involved certainly present the potential for something intriguing to emerge from this one-night event that's part of the museum's ongoing Area 51 lecture series.
"We looked at bringing in some people to talk about extraterrestrials and UFOs," said museum CEO and executive director Allan Palmer, a highly decorated former Air Force and Navy combat jet fighter.
"We wanted to concentrate on people who had personal stories and exposure to what they thought were real UFOs from the military side, because they might have just a little more credibility than your average Joe," Palmer told The Huffington Post.
Four of the participants had previous American military security clearances:
Ret. Army Col. John Alexander: Former military insider who created Advanced Theoretical Physics -- a group of top-level government officials and scientists brought together to study UFOs.
Ret. Air Force Col. Charles Halt: Former base commander of the RAF Bentwaters military base in England and vital eyewitness to the amazing UFO-related events at Rendlesham Forest in December 1980, where he believed the observed UFOs were extraterrestrial in origin.
Ret. Air Force Col. William Coleman: Former public information officer for the Air Force's Project Blue Book UFO study.
Ret. Air Force Col. Robert Friend: Former director of the Air Force's Project Blue Book from 1958 to 1963.
The fifth guest at the museum's upcoming UFO lecture is former U.K. UFO desk officer Nick Pope.
Iran to hold major air defence drill: commander Sat Sep 1, 2012 9:06am EDT
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will hold a large-scale military drill involving all its air defence systems next month, an Iranian commander was quoted as saying on Saturday, one of a number of military simulations it has carried out this year.
The air defence drill will include fighter jets and simulate emergency situations, said Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Iranian army's air defence force, according to Iran's English-language Press TV.
The drill will include both the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Esmaili said, and follows a series of large-scale military simulations such as the "Great Prophet 7" missile exercises in July.
Israeli leaders' warnings that time is running out to halt Iran's controversial nuclear program have raised concern they may order an attack on Iranian nuclear sites, though Israel has come under growing international pressure not to act alone.
Israel and major Western powers suspect Iran is secretly trying to acquire the ability to produce nuclear bombs, but Tehran says its program is for purely peaceful purposes.
"Today our systems are prepared in a serious way for modern air threats, such that the performance of the systems compared to the previous profile has improved," Esmaili was quoted as saying on Friday by the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri.
"The army air defence command's mission, with the development of the national defence mission and coordination between the armed forces, is to undertake appropriate operations against the threats of the enemies," he said, without mentioning any country by name.
Iran announced last month that it had tested a short-range missile with a new guidance system capable of striking land and sea targets.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Tim Pearce)
Obama administration divided over designating Haqqani network as terrorist group
By Karen DeYoung, Published: August 31
Just days before a congressional deadline, the Obama administration is deeply divided over whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist group, with some officials worried that doing so could complicate efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban and undermine already-fraught relations with Pakistan.
In early August, Congress gave Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 30 days to determine whether the Haqqani group, considered the most lethal opponent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, meets the criteria for designation — a foreign organization engaging in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. citizens or national security.
If she says it does not, Clinton must explain her rationale in a report that is due to Congress on Sept. 9. Acknowledgment that the group meets the criteria, however, would probably force the administration to take action, which is strongly advocated by the military but has been resisted by the White House and some in the State Department.
Senior officials have repeatedly called the Haqqani network the most significant threat to the U.S. goal of exiting a relatively peaceful Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and have accused Pakistan of direct support for its leadership. The network has conducted a series of lethal, high-profile attacks against U.S. targets.
In recent weeks, the military has reiterated its call for Pakistan to prove its counterterrorism commitment by attacking Haqqani sanctuaries in its North Waziristan tribal area. The CIA has escalated drone attacks on Haqqani targets, including a strike last week that administration officials said killed the son of the network’s founder and its third-ranking official.
But just as there are reasons to designate the network a terrorist group, there are several factors weighing against the move, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the administration’s closed-door deliberations.
Those factors include a tenuous rapprochement with Pakistan that led in early July to the reopening of vital U.S. military supply lines into Afghanistan; hopes that the autumn end of this year’s Afghan fighting season will bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table after the suspension of talks in March; and a reconfigured U.S. offer on a prisoner exchange that could lead to the release of the only U.S. service member being held by the militants.
After a White House meeting last week in which President Obama’s top national security advisers aired divergent views, Clinton is said to remain undecided as aides prepare a list of options. She has avoided taking action on the issue since assuring lawmakers late last year that she was undertaking a “final” review.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have long argued that labeling the Haqqani group a Foreign Terrorist Organization — a relatively short list of about four dozen entities that does not include the Taliban — is one of the most important steps the administration could take to win the war.
In a series of meetings and video conferences with Washington, Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said he “needs more tools” to fight the Haqqanis and asked specifically for the designation, one administration official said.
A recent report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point called the Haqqani network “an efficient, transnational jihadi industry” that has “penetrated key business sectors, including import-export, transport, real estate and construction in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab Gulf and beyond” and could be effectively undermined by designation as a terrorist organization.
Designation is “a key first step toward actively targeting the group’s international financial activity and support network,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats unit. The unit is headed by Frederick W. Kagan, a leading counterterrorism adviser to the U.S. military in Afghanistan and to Allen’s predecessor, current CIA Director David H. Petraeus.
But others in the White House and State Department argue that the designation would be largely for show and would have little substantive effect.
Individual Haqqani leaders have already been designated as terrorists, and U.S. entities are prohibited from dealing with them. Separate designations, by the Treasury Department or the United Nations, or under an existing executive order, could achieve the same result as adding the network to the far more prominent State Department list.
Drawing a line between the Haqqanis and the Taliban will only make peace negotiations harder, said a second U.S. official who opposes designation. Administration policy “heavily depends on a political solution,” this official said. “Why not do everything we can to promote that? Why create one more obstacle, which is largely symbolic in nature?”
These officials fundamentally disagree with the assessment that the Haqqanis are a separate entity from the Taliban and are irreconcilable, and argue that the military is using the Haqqanis as an excuse to mask its own difficulties in the war.
For its part, Pakistan’s powerful military insists that it has no preference in what one senior officer called “an internal matter for the United States to decide.” But while it denies U.S. charges of complicity with or control over the Haqqanis, there is little doubt the Pakistanis are closest to the Haqqani group within the Taliban organization, and they have pressed for its inclusion in any peace negotiations.
“From our point of view, reconciliation has to be very broad-based,” the military official said. “The Haqqanis are not an individual entity. . . . They’re a part of the conversation, whatever that is.”
Although intelligence assessments differ in degree and the groups appear operationally independent to some degree, the Haqqani organization is generally considered to be one of three subgroups under the overall leadership of Taliban chief Mohammad Omar and the top-level council he heads in Quetta, in southern Pakistan.
Talks between U.S. and Taliban officials that began in late 2010 were suspended in March when the militants charged that the Americans had altered the terms of a potential prisoner swap in which five Taliban members held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be exchanged in two groups for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held since 2009 by the Haqqanis.
Underlying the stated reason for the suspension, U.S. officials believe that the Taliban is split on many levels over the talks — between field commanders and Pakistan-based leaders, between different factions and among individuals vying for power in a future Afghanistan.
But Haqqani provision of a proof-of-life video of Bergdahl, delivered through Taliban negotiators in February 2011, as well as a public profession of fealty to Omar by the Haqqani leadership in September, convinced some officials that a deal with one was tantamount to a deal with the other.
In June, the Americans transmitted a new offer to the Taliban, through the government of Qatar, in which Bergdahl’s release would come with the release of the second Guantanamo group rather than the first. They do not expect a response until after the end of the summer fighting season.
Netanyahu urges international "red lines" to stop Iran
By Jeffrey Heller Sun Sep 2, 2012 7:27am EDT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Sunday to set a "clear red line" for Tehran's atomic activities and said they had failed to convince it of their resolve to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.
Netanyahu's remarks suggested a growing Israeli impatience with its main ally, the United States, and other countries that have been pressing him to give diplomacy and sanctions more time to work and hold off on any go-it-alone Israeli strike on Iran.
"I believe the truth must be stated: The international community is not placing a clear red line for Iran and Iran does not see international resolve to stop its nuclear programme," Netanyahu told his cabinet.
"Unless Iran sees this clear red line and this clear resolve it will not stop moving forward with its nuclear programme, and Iran must not have nuclear weapons," he said in broadcast remarks.
Although Netanyahu did not single out the United States or U.S. President Barack Obama in his criticism, Israeli officials have said they hope for stronger language from the president about possible U.S. military action.
Obama, who has had a frosty relationship with Netanyahu, has insisted he will not allow Iran to build atomic weapons and that all options are on the table.
On Saturday Tzachi Hanegbi, an influential former Israeli legislator and a Netanyahu confidant, said "the rhetoric of the U.S. president is too vague, very amorphous" and Iran was not taking Obama's words seriously.
In a U.S. election year, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has also sharply criticized Obama's handling of Iran as not being tough enough.
Tehran says it is refining uranium to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants so that it can export more of its oil and gas. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of a covert bid to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs.
Israel, believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence.
Netanyahu has said he will speak out about the dangers of Iran in an address this month to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He is also expected to hold talks with Obama during his visit, but no announcement has yet been made.
A senior Israeli official told Reuters last week Netanyahu would seek a firm pledge of U.S. military action if Iran did not back down on uranium enrichment. Such a promise could dissuade Israel from attacking Iran alone, Israeli officials have said.
A United Nations report said on Thursday that Iran had more than doubled the number of centrifuges in its fortified bunker at Fordow since May, showing it was still expanding its nuclear programme despite Western pressure and threat of Israeli attack. The new machines are not yet operating, the report said.
"The report confirms what I have been saying for a long time, international sanctions are a burden on Iran's economy but they are not in any way delaying the advancement of Iran's nuclear programme," Netanyahu told his cabinet, in public remarks opening the meeting.
"The Iranians are using the talks with the world powers to win time and to advance their nuclear programme," he said.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, has suggested Washington would not be drawn into conflict with Iran should Israel attack. "I don't want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do it," Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted him on Friday as saying.
Recent heightened Israeli rhetoric has stoked speculation that Israel might attack Iran before the U.S. elections in November, believing that Obama would give it military help and not risk alienating pro-Israeli voters.
Israeli officials have said Israel has yet to decide, amid divisions within its security cabinet and warnings by military and security chiefs that a strike would have only a limited effect in setting back Iran's nuclear programme.
An Iranian general said that if Israel were to attack Iran, Israeli officials would be the target of retaliation, Iranian media reported on Sunday.
"In case of Israel's military attack against Iran, the officials of (Israel) will be among the first victims of such an attack," Mohammad Ali Assoudi, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Iran's English-language Press TV.
His broadcast remarks gave no details, but Press TV paraphrased him as saying Israel's policies had induced hatred of its officials among residents of the occupied territories.
Iran has undertaken large-scale military maneuvers this summer and unveiled upgrades to weapons it says are defensive, including what it said was a more accurate short-range missile.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai; Editing by Tim Pearce)
By Greg Jaffe and Kevin Sieff Published: September 1
KABUL — The senior commander for Special Operations forces in Afghanistan has suspended training for all new Afghan recruits until the more than 27,000 Afghan troops working with his command can be re-vetted for ties to the insurgency.
The move comes as NATO officials struggle to stem the tide of attacks on NATO forces by their Afghan colleagues. The attacks, which have killed 45 troops this year, have forced NATO officials to acknowledge a painful truth: Many of the incidents might have been prevented if existing security measures had been applied correctly.
But numerous military guidelines were not followed — by Afghans or Americans — because of concerns that they might slow the growth of the Afghan army and police, according to NATO officials.
Special Operations officials said that the current process for vetting recruits is effective but that a lack of follow-up has allowed Afghan troops who fell under the sway of the insurgency or grew disillusioned with the Afghan government to remain in the force.
“We have a very good vetting process,” a senior Special Operations official said. “What we learned is that you just can’t take it for granted. We probably should have had a mechanism to follow up with recruits from the beginning.”
In other instances, the vetting process for Afghan soldiers and police was never properly implemented, and NATO officials say they knew it. But they looked the other way, worried that extensive background checks could hinder the recruitment process. Also ignored were requirements that Afghans display proper credentials while on base.
“Everyone admits there was a lot of international pressure to grow these forces, and the vetting of these individuals was cast aside as an inhibitor,” said a U.S. official who, like other officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
The move last week by the Special Operations Command to suspend the training of new recruits followed the Aug. 17 shooting of two American Special Forces members by a new Afghan Local Police recruit at a small outpost in western Afghanistan.
The local police initiative places Special Forces teams in remote villages where they work with Afghan elders and government officials to help villagers defend themselves against insurgent attacks and intimidation. U.S. officials have touted the program, which numbers about 16,000 Afghans, as a critical way to spread security and the influence of the Afghan government to remote areas of the country where the Taliban have found haven.
But the program, which is slated to double in size to about 30,000 Afghans, also carries risks for U.S. troops. “We’re living with the Afghans,” said a second senior Special Operations official. “We can’t afford to take any chances with vetting.”
Since the program began in 2010, there have been three instances of Afghan Local Police recruits turning their guns on their American counterparts.
Afghan officials, working with U.S. Special Operations troops, have re-vetted about 1,100 Afghan Local Police officers and removed five policemen from the program. They are also in the process of vetting 8,000 Afghan commandos and 3,000 Afghan army special forces soldiers who are fighting alongside American Special Operations troops throughout the country. Special Operations officials said that they anticipate it will take about two months to rescreen all of the Afghan forces and that the training of new recruits could stall for as long as a month.
NATO officials have declined to provide many details of their investigations into the insider killing incidents, and they have not said whether any commanders have been reprimanded for failing to follow security measures. Although NATO officials concede that force-protection guidelines were routinely ignored, they have not said whether commanders had the authority to waive them.
Measures specifically designed to curtail attacks were also inconsistently applied, officials say. The “Guardian Angel” program — which requires a service member to shoot any Afghan soldier or police officer who tries to attack coalition troops — was often seen as a distraction from NATO’s mission. Calls to minimize off-duty time spent with Afghan troops were similarly thought to undermine the goal of relationship-building, according to NATO officials.
With insider attacks responsible for nearly 15 percent of this year’s coalition fatalities, top NATO leaders have asked commanders across the country to suggest a series of fresh security measures, part of a newly established Insider Threat Working Group. They have also mandated proper implementation of existing measures, some of them in place for a decade.
“It’s time to retrospectively shore up the system,” said a senior NATO official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Less downtime together
Officials acknowledge that the character of NATO-Afghan relations varies across the country and that it was always far-fetched to think that a single set of precautions could be universally applied. But the laxity that was for years the norm is no longer acceptable, they say.
Troops are now being advised to stay away from Afghan soldiers and police officers during vulnerable moments, such as when they are sleeping, bathing or exercising, according to a directive from NATO leaders.
“We need to reduce risks by reducing certain interactions with the Afghans. We don’t need to sleep or shower next to them, because that’s when we’re most vulnerable,” said a NATO official who has been charged with making security recommendations. “It’s about force protection without endangering the relationship. It’s a true teeter-totter.”
The balance is particularly difficult to strike at this late stage of the war, when training and advising Afghan forces is essential to the U.S. effort. Such work necessitates close collaboration. Particularly on smaller bases, Afghan and American forces live in tight proximity and go on daily joint operations.
The slogan for the U.S.-Afghan military partnership, printed on billboards and in pamphlets, is “Shohna ba Shohna” — shoulder to shoulder.
NATO leaders say they have no plans to distance themselves from their partners. But inevitably, aspects of the relationship are being called into question.
“We remain convinced that the closer our relationship with the Afghans, the more secure we are. But there’s no question we must work together to understand and reduce the insider threat,” said Maj. Lori Hodge, a spokeswoman for NATO forces. “We’re examining every aspect of the relationship to ensure our interaction makes sense, not just culturally but in terms of force protection, as well.”
The most recent insider attack occurred Wednesday night. Three Australian troops were relaxing at their base in southern Uruzgan province when they were shot at close range by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform, the vice chief of Australia’s defense force, Mark Binskin, told reporters in Sydney.
Accepting a flawed system
For a decade, coalition officials watched as Afghan security services overlooked key elements of the vetting process — sometimes for the sake of expediency and sometimes because of corruption.
Many Afghans, even those who were vetted, were never issued official badges, making it impossible to tell who was supposed to have access to any particular facility. In Helmand province, thousands of Afghan police officers lack identification cards, according to U.S. officials.
“For years, there have been thousands of guys without proper identification. Our troops had no way of knowing who they were, or if they picked up their uniform in a bazaar,” said a U.S. official, one of several charged with making recommendations on ways to reduce the number of insider attacks.
An acceptance of that flawed system meant that Western troops rarely questioned Afghans on base who lacked credentials. The 15-year-old civilian who shot three Marines in Helmand last month had lived on a U.S. base for weeks, despite not being a member of the security forces.
“They made a fatal assumption that he was part of the staff,” said a U.S. official familiar with the incident. “They didn’t require the district police chief to prove that he belonged there. They didn’t want to push. They wanted to build a relationship.”
“Now there is a real effort to make sure people are adhering to orders they are supposed to be adhering to,” the U.S. official said. “We don’t need a lot of new laws, we just need to make sure people follow the ones that are already out there.”
One official tasked with making recommendations for new measures has suggested the establishment of Task Force Insider Threat — an amalgam of law enforcement and counterterrorism experts that would be embedded within units across Afghanistan, working full time to detect and analyze potential threats. Senior NATO officials in Kabul confirmed that the plan is under consideration.
The Afghan army has announced plans to launch an expanded counterintelligence campaign against infiltrators. Last month, NATO forces launched an independent counterintelligence effort that Western officials confirmed but would not discuss in detail.