Iranian short-range missile is test-launched during war games in Qom, September 2009. A commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said that air defence forces would "annihilate" Israeli warplanes if they attacked the Islamic republic, as the forces began five days of war games. (AFP/File/Shaigan)
Iran begins war games to protect nuclear sites
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran on Sunday began large-scale air defense war games aimed at protecting its nuclear facilities from attack, state TV reported, as an air force commander boasted the country could deter any military strike by Israel.
It said the five-day drill will cover an area a third of the size of Iran and spread across the central, western and southern parts of the country.
Gen. Ahmad Mighani, head of an air force unit in charge of responding to threats to Iran's air space, said Saturday the war games would cover regions where Iran's nuclear facilities are located.
The drill involves Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, the paramilitary Basij forces affiliated with the Guard as well as army units.
The United States and its European allies accuse Iran of embarking on a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies the charge and insists the program is only for peaceful purposes.
Israel has not ruled out military action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The commander of the Guard's air force, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, meanwhile sought on Sunday to play down the significance of Israel's threats against his country, saying they amounted to psychological warfare.
"We are sure they are not able to do anything against us since they cannot predict our reaction," Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by the Guard's official Web site, Sephahnews.
"If their fighter planes could escape from Iran's air defense system, their bases will be hit by our devastating surface-to-surface missiles before they land," he said.
Also on Sunday, Iran's defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, said Iran planned to pursue designing and producing its own air defense missiles, according to the official IRNA news agency.
His comments were apparently in response to the delay in the delivery from Russia of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, meant to be a key component of Iran's air defense.
Iran complains that the delay is apparently the result of Israeli and U.S. pressure.
Israel and the United States have opposed the missile deal out of fear Iran could use the system to significantly boost air defenses at its nuclear sites — including its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
Commenting on this week's war games, a senior Obama administration official urged Iran to engage with the international community.
"We would prefer that the Iranian regime follow through on their offer to engage," said Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
"It is more important for them to build confidence with the international community," she said at a news conference Sunday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Halifax, Nova Scotia
Labels: Iran begins war games - protect nuclear sites
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks after he addressing delegates attending the Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Forum on 'Why I am supporting Sierra Leone', in London Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009. Blair is believed to be one of the candidates for the position of the first full-time President of the European Union, whose appointment will be decided by EU leaders at a dinner in Brussels, Thursday Nov. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Report: Leaked UK documents detail Iraq war chaos
LONDON – Leaked British government documents call into question ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair's public statements on the buildup to the Iraq war and show plans for the U.S.-led 2003 invasion were being made more than a year earlier, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Britain's Sunday Telegraph published details of private statements made by senior British military figures claiming plans were in place months before the March 2003 invasion, but were so badly drafted they left troops poorly equipped and ill-prepared for the conflict.
The documents — transcripts of interviews from an internal defense ministry review of the conflict — disclose that some planning for the Iraq war had begun in February 2002. Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, then head of Britain's special forces, was quoted as saying he had been "working the war up since early 2002," according to the newspaper.
In July 2002, Blair told lawmakers at a House of Commons committee session that there were no preparations to invade Iraq.
Critics of the war have long insisted that Blair offered then-President George W. Bush an assurance as early as mid-2002 — before British lawmakers voted in 2003 to approve U.K. involvement — that Britain would join the war.
The leaked documents are likely to be supplied to a public inquiry established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to scrutinize prewar intelligence and postwar planning, and which will hold its first evidence sessions later this week.
Brown appointed ex-civil servant John Chilcot to lead the panel, which will call Blair and the current and former heads of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency — John Sawers and John Scarlett — to give testimony in person.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, military leaders used the defense ministry review to criticize government departments over their failure to plan for reconstruction work once Saddam Hussein had been deposed.
"We got absolutely no advice whatsoever. The lack of involvement by the FCO (Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office), the Home Office and the Department for International Development was appalling," the newspaper quoted Brig. Bill Moore as saying in his statement.
It quoted Lt. Col. M. L. Dunn as reporting that his soldiers "only had five rounds of ammunition each" when the invasion began, and that troops lacked the correct armor and other equipment.
In another statement, Lt. Col. John Power said long-distance radios failed in Iraq's heat and claimed planning was so haphazard that military officials mistakenly sent a container of skis along with desert equipment.
The newspaper said the internal review concludes that a swift military victory was won only because Iraq's forces were so poor. "A more capable enemy would probably have punished (our) shortcomings severely," it quotes a document as saying.
Britain's role in the Iraq conflict — which triggered massive public protests at home — left 179 British soldiers dead.
"Tony Blair consistently denied to Parliament and public that the U.K. government was preparing for war in Iraq, yet these documents show that planning began as far back as 2002," Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, said Sunday. The revelations prove Blair took Britain "an illegal and disastrous war on false pretences," Salmond said.
The defense ministry declined to comment Sunday on the leaked documents, but said it "recognizes the importance of identifying and learning lessons from operations."
Two previous British studies into the war have been carried out . One cleared the government of blame for the death of David Kelly, a government weapons scientist who killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair's office of "sexing up" prewar intelligence.
A separate 2004 inquiry — which Chilcot took part in — into intelligence on Iraq also cleared Blair's government, but criticized spy agencies for relying on seriously flawed or unreliable sources.
Findings of the new inquiry will not be published before next summer, meaning the conclusions won't be known before Britain's next national election, which Brown must hold by June 2010.
On the Net::
Labels: British leaked docs. -Iraq chaos
The Secret Details of Obama's Afghan Plan
President Barack Obama’s long-awaited Tuesday speech on Afghanistan offers lots more troops to the military and some promising rhetoric for war skeptics. He will authorize between 30,000 and 36,000 new U.S. troops, depending on prospective NATO contributions, and an additional 10,000 more in a year if necessary, according to administration sources. Obama will stress that these and other moves to strengthen the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda should be seen as a boost to friendly Afghans and not as an open-ended American commitment. The boost will provide the time and the incentives for America’s Afghan allies to prepare themselves to assume primary responsibility for continuing the battle.
I believe that the Obama approach is reasonable, and about the most that can be expected, given the powerful conflicting pressures. The plan deserves the support of the American people.
I would have preferred no more than about 15,000 troops, mainly trainers, a two- to three-year plan (not a fixed timetable) for Kabul to take the combat lead, and much more toughness toward our two-faced Pakistani “allies.” And the administration sources stress that the precise details and rhetoric of Obama’s plan won’t be set until the president gives his speech Tuesday night at West Point. But based on what they’ve told me, I believe that the Obama approach is reasonable, and about the most that can be expected, given the powerful conflicting pressures. The plan deserves the support of the American people.
The United States already deploys about 68,000 troops, and there are an additional 20,000 or so of various stripes from friendly countries. General Stanley McChrystal, NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, asked for about 44,000 additional American troops on the ground. The 30,000-plus that Mr. Obama will approve is about the maximum that could actually be deployed to Afghanistan in the next 12 months. And if the general can clearly demonstrate he still needs more in a year, the president will signal his willingness to consider an additional 10,000. But that would be the limit, the end of it.
The strategy to govern the employment of these forces, Mr. Obama is expected to say, will be much like the counterinsurgency approach he originally approved back in March—the approach McChrystal reaffirmed in his recent “secret” leaked report. That means clearing areas and holding them with military force, followed by civilian and economic programs. He will also underline the anti-terrorist component of this strategy—namely the focus on attacking al Qaeda itself, a point stressed relentlessly by Vice President Joe Biden during the nearly two-month policy review.
But there are two additional elements to the strategy. U.S. forces will expedite the long-neglected training of Afghan military and police forces. And the new 30,000-plus surge of U.S. troops will be used to beat up on the Taliban enough to make it easier for the Afghans themselves to manage down the road.
Mr. Obama will also announce a change in the American goal—without calling attention to the new objective. His goal up to now has been to “defeat” al Qaeda. The new mission: to “dismantle and degrade” the terrorists. It is a more modest and achievable goal, intended to weaken the terrorists’ ability to operate in the South Asia region. The United States will continue to take the lead over the next few years to achieve this goal in Afghanistan. But after that, the president is expected to say, the main burden will fall on Kabul—though with continuing American economic and military support. As of this point, it’s not clear whether Mr. Obama will condition his new strategy on President Hamid Karzai cleaning up the corrupt and ineffectual Afghan government. The words of caution and warning to Karzai will be in the Obama speech. But he likely won’t go so far as to say “shape up or else.”
Obama will also lay out a diplomatic track, aimed at building America’s ties to the countries of that region—from India, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and maybe even to Iran. The idea is to establish a kind of cluster to contain terrorism. It’s a good idea. There will also be a diplomatic track within Afghanistan, whereby Washington will support efforts by Kabul to strike political deals with “moderate” Taliban and to offer money to Taliban fighters as incentive for them to switch sides.
It’s unclear at the moment just how tough Obama will be with Pakistan. In effect, Islamabad has provided a safe haven for Afghan Taliban for more than a decade as a hedge against Indian encroachments into Afghanistan. As a result, Pakistan urges the United States to stay and fight in Afghanistan to keep the Indians out, but provides succor to the Taliban to hedge against an American withdrawal. So, the Pakistanis want us to stay in Afghanistan and help the Taliban to kill our troops. It’s hard to see how Obama’s new strategy can work unless Pakistan’s leaders are brought to see for themselves the terrible consequences (the strengthening of the Pakistani Taliban extremists) of pursuing this duplicitous course.
All in all, and with its inevitable uncertainties, this new Obama strategy offers enough prospect of progress, if not success, for Americans to give it their support. As long as the president keeps his eye on the ball and transfers the main responsibility to friendly Afghans themselves—that is, making the war their war—he’s got my backing as well.
Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Labels: obama plan for afghanistan
Lack of health care killed 2,266 US veterans last year: study
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The number of US veterans who died in 2008 because they lacked health insurance was 14 times higher than the US military death toll in Afghanistan that year, according to a new study.
The analysis produced by two Harvard medical researchers estimates that 2,266 US military veterans under the age of 65 died in 2008 because they lacked health coverage and had reduced access to medical care.
That figure is more than 14 times higher than the 155 US troop deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, the study says.
Released as the United States commemorates fallen soldiers on Veterans Day, the study warns that even health care provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VA) leaves many veterans without coverage.
The analysis uses census data to isolate the number of US veterans who lack both private health coverage and care offered by the VA.
"That's a group that's about 1.5 million people," said David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program who co-authored the study.
Himmelstein and co-author Stephanie Woolhandler, also a Harvard medical professor, overlaid that figure with another study examining the mortality rate associated with lack of health insurance.
"The uninsured have about a 40 percent higher risk of dying each year than otherwise comparable insured individuals," Himmelstein told AFP.
"Putting that all together you get an estimate of almost 2,300 -- 2,266 veterans who die each year from lack of health insurance."
Only some US veterans have access to medical care through the VA and coverage is apportioned on the basis of eight "priority groups."
"They range from things like people who were prisoners of war, who have coverage for life, or who have battle injuries and therefore have coverage for their injuries for life," said Himmelstein.
Veterans who fall below an income threshold that is determined on a county-by-county basis can qualify for care, but many veterans are "working poor" and fall just above the bracket.
"The priority eight group, the lowest priority, are veterans above the very poor group who have no other reason to be eligible and that group is essentially shut out of the VA," according to Himmelstein.
The study comes as the US Senate weighs health care reform legislation and whether to offer government health insurance.
Himmelstein warns that congressional proposals could still leave veterans uncovered and favors a national health care program similar to those in Britain and Canada.
Labels: vets-lack of health care kill thousands