Saturday, November 07, 2009

British public support for Afghanistan war falling...

British public support for the war in Afghanistan is falling, while more than 40 per cent do not understand why British troops are fighting there, a poll released on Remembrance Sunday showed.

Some 64 per cent agreed that "the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable", up six per cent from July, while 27 per cent disagreed, down four per cent. Ten per cent said they did not know.

Similar numbers said British forces should be withdrawn as quickly as possible, with 63 per cent agreeing and 31 per cent disagreeing.

Some 54 per cent felt they had "a good understanding of the purpose of Britain's mission in Afghanistan", with 42 per cent disagreeing.

"Overall there is the sense that Afghanistan is becoming for (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown what Iraq became for (his predecessor) Tony Blair," said Andrew Hawkins, chief executive of pollsters ComRes.

"More than four in 10 don't understand Britain's mission; support for the British presence there is ebbing away, and a majority have responded to the presidential election very negatively indeed.

"The results suggest that the impact of the war must be having an impact on Labour support, since it is that party's core supporters who are most strongly opposed to it."

Meanwhile, 52 per cent agreed that "the levels of corruption involved in the recent presidential election show the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting for." Thirty-six per cent disagreed.

"This is potentially devastating for the government's case for war," said Hawkins.

ComRes surveyed 1,009 adults of different ages and social classes across Britain for BBC television's "The Politics Show".

This is actually quite interesting as New Zealand public support has fallen too - about evenly split at present; just after NZ has sent its SAS special forces troops back to Afghanistan for another three six month rotations. It will also be very interesting if they survive their rotations there, especially if there are many casualties and even deaths.

Acknowledgements: Yahoo News

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Kiwi Mental Health patient restrained and kept in solitary confinement for six years...

A mentally ill patient held in restraints and kept in solitary confinement for almost six years is one of several disturbing cases of possibly inhumane treatment the country's Ombudsmen have uncovered in New Zealand detention facilities.

The public watchdogs found the patient in virtually constant "seclusion" - solitary confinement in a bare room - at the mental health unit of a district health board.

Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem would not name the board last night, but said it claimed the detention and use of restraints was required because the patient was likely to attack other patients and staff.

But Ms Wakem said that after her office became involved, the patient was moved to a more suitable facility.

"Why nobody thought to look at that and make that assessment before we arrived on the scene is a cause for concern," she told the Herald.

The patient was one example of "potential cruel and inhumane treatment" the Ombudsmen identified during the investigation.

The investigation also found a young intellectually disabled patient being kept in unwarranted and lengthy "seclusion", and another mental health patient who had been kept without any consent for years.

Ms Wakem said the health boards responsible took action immediately.

But the Health Ministry's director of mental health, Dr David Chaplow, said last night that he knew nothing of the cases and would be ordering an urgent report.

Dr Chaplow said he knew of one patient with a mixture of autism, intellectual disability and mental illness that was particularly challenging, "but I have never known a case in seclusion for six years".

The annual mental health services report says 1395 patients were secluded for between two minutes and 365 days in the past year.

Dr Chaplow said there was now a "sinking lid" policy on seclusion, but it had a place in mental health care.

The Ombudsmen's investigation covered prisons, mental health units, immigration detention centres, court cells and youth facilities.

It was detailed in the Ombudsmen's annual report, issued yesterday, and also raised concerns that prisoners were not given electric fans to control cell ventilation or temperature.

It said in excessive temperatures the lack of fans could amount to "cruel" or "inhumane" treatment.

It noted this was more likely with increasing lock-down times and double-bunking as the prison population reached crisis point.

Corrections prison services manager Karen Urwin said the department had looked into buying fans for every prison cell, but had decided it was not an effective use of taxpayers' money as extreme heat waves were rare in New Zealand.

* Case studies

CASE 1: Mental health patient in "virtually constant restraint and seclusion for nearly six years".

CASE 2: Young intellectually disabled patient kept in "seclusion" for lengthy period.

CASE 3: Mental health patient "treated for some years without any apparent consent of any kind".

Acknowledgements: MSN News

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The massive underground complex in the Yamantau Mountain in Russia...

Starting in the Brezhnev period, Russia has been pursuing construction of a massive underground facility at Yamantau Mountain and the city of Mezhgorye (formerly the settlements of Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16). The complex, reportedly being built by tens of thousands of workers, is said to cover an area of up to 400 square miles, the size of the Washington area inside the Beltway.

The exact location of this large facility is uncertain, and given its reported size it may span as much as an entire degree of latitude and longitude. It is apparently located near the the Zlatoust-36/Yuryuzan nuclear weapons production plant and the Yuryuzan national-level nuclear weapons storage facility. The Yaman-Tau Gory [mountains] range is centered at 52°25'N 56°45'E, while the peak of Yamantau Gora [mountain] is at 54°15'19"N 58°06'11"E. The town of Beloretsk is located at 53°58'N 58°24'E, though NIMA does not include a listing for Mezhgorye. This facility may be synonymous with "Alkino-2" since the town of Al'kino is nearby at 55°05'N 58°04'E.

On April 16, 1996, the New York Times reported on a mysterious military base being constructed in Russia: "In a secret project reminiscent of the chilliest days of the Cold War, Russia is building a mammoth underground military complex in the Ural Mountains, Western officials and Russian witnesses say. Hidden inside Yamantau mountain in the Beloretsk area of the southern Urals, the project involved the creation of a huge complex, served by a railroad, a highway, and thousands of workers."

The New York Times quoted Russian officials describing the underground compound variously as a mining site, a repository for Russian treasures, a food storage area, and a bunker for Russia's leaders in case of nuclear war. "The (Russian) Defense Ministry declined to say whether Parliament has been informed about the details of the project, like its purpose and cost, saying only that it receives necessary military information," according to the New York Times.

Satellite photographs of Yamantau Mountain show continued digging at the "deep undergound complex" and new construction at each of the site's above-ground support areas. Judging from satellite photos and other intelligence, US officials are fairly confident that the Russians are building an underground command bunker and communications installation. But "... the Russians are not very interested in having us go in there," a senior American official said in Washington. "It is being built on a huge scale and involves a major investment of resources. The investments are being made at a time when the Russians are complaining they do not have the resources to do things pertaining to arms control."

Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that "The huge underground complex being built there has been the object of U.S. interest since 1992. 'We don't know exactly what it is,' says Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's international security mogul. The facility is not operational, and the Russians have offered 'nonspecific reassurances' that it poses no threat to the U.S." Russia's 1997 federal budget lists the project as a closed territory containing installations of the Ministry of Defense.

Leonid Akimovich Tsirkunov, commandant of Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16, stated in 1991 and 1992 that the purpose of the construction there was to build a mining and ore-processing complex, but later claimed that it was an underground warehouse for food and clothing. And then Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces General Igor Sergeyev denied that the facility was associated with nuclear forces. M.Z. Shakiorov, a former communist official in the region, alleged in 1992 that the Yamantau Mountain facility was to become a shelter for the Russian national leadership in case of nuclear war. Sources of the Segodnya newspaper in 1996 claimed that the Yamantau Mountain project was associated with the so-called `Dead Hand' nuclear retaliatory command and control system for strategic missiles.

According to one recent account ["We Keep Building Nukes For All the Wrong Reasons", By Bruce G. Blair, The Washington Post Sunday, May 25, 2003; Page B01] "... the Yamantau and Kosvinsky mountains in the central and southern Urals ... were huge construction projects begun in the late 1970s, when U.S. nuclear firepower took special aim at the Communist Party's leadership complex. Fearing a decapitating strike, the Soviets sent tens of thousands of workers to these remote sites, where U.S. spy satellites spotted them still toiling away in the late 1990s. Yamantau is expected to be operating soon. According to diagrams and notes given to me in the late 1990s by SAC senior officers, the Yamantau command center is inside a rock quartz mountain, about 3,000 feet straight down from the summit. It is a wartime relocation facility for the top Russian political leadership. It is more a shelter than a command post, because the facility's communications links are relatively fragile. As it turned out, the quartz interferes with radio signals broadcast from inside the mountain. Therefore the main communications links are either cable or radio transmitters that broadcast from outside the center."

Beloretsk is a center of Beloretsk region of Bashkortostan. It is situated on the cross of Belaya River and Magnitogorsk-Beloretsk-Karloman rail-road. It is 264 km. far from Ufa and 105 km. far from Magnitogorsk. The population was 73600 of people in 1995 ( 19900 in 1926, 59300 in 1959, 72400 in 1989). One of the oldest minig and metalurgical centers of South Ural appeared because of construction of the metallurgical works. Before The First World War narrow-gauge Zaprudovka-Beloretsk line was built. In 1923 the village Beloretskiy Zavod grew into town, in 1926 it was connected with Tukan and in 1927 with Inzer by narrow-gauge line. Wood and ore was transported from these towns to the plant. Including the plant to the field of activity of Uralo-Kuzneckiy group of enterprise was the reason of its reconstruction and its transfering to a coking coal. Town development became quicker after constructing the rail-road to Ufa (1997). The main city industry is the metallurgical works. Other plants in Beloretsk produce tools for building, springs for tractors, nails, etc. There are also woodworking industry, meat and dairy factories, plants producing bricks and ferro-concret items.

The Republic of Bashkortostan is located in the Southern part of the Urals along the line of Europe and Asia. Its area is 143,600 sq. m. As of January 1, 1995 the population of Bashkortostan was 4.097 million people. The capital is Ufa is with a population of 1.1 million residents. The republic has 54 administrative areas ("rayons") and 21 cities. Other large cities include Sterlitamak (256,000 inhabitants), Salavat (155,000), Nefetekamsk (123,000), Oktyabrsky (108,000). Representatives of 70 nations and ethnicities live in the Republic of Bashkortostan, including Russians (39.3 percent), Tatars (28.4 percent) and Bashkirs (21.9 percent). The urban population constitutes 65 percent of the total.

Acknowledgements: Global Security

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Monday, November 02, 2009

SOS Afghanistan – Are the SAS on a doomed mission?

An interview with US Afghanistan expert Thomas Johnson
by Gordon Campbell

On August 20th Afghanistan will hold a general election that is deemed virtually certain to return Hamid Karzai and his cronies to power. At best, the opposition is hoping to win enough votes to force a run-off vote, but that seems unlikely. It will be a hollow victory. Over the past five years, the Karzai government has squandered the goodwill it originally had – and is now widely seen among Afghans as being corrupt, inefficient, beholden to foreigners, warlords and the drug trade, and to be losing its war with the Taliban.

It is against this backdrop that the Key government has signaled its intention to put our combat troops back into the fray. In a couple of weeks, Cabinet is expected to respond positively to the US request for our special forces that was conveyed a few months ago by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Foreign Minister Murray McCully. This decision will entail re-deploying SAS units – presumably to the hot spots in the south of the country, and along the border with Pakistan. It will also entail winding down our successful aid and reconstruction work in the province of Bamiyan.

The wisdom of choosing to put our troops into this combat zone – in a war that many claim has already been lost – is obviously open to question. A few months ago, Prime Minister John Key was indicating that he would need to see a workable policy with a clear exit strategy, before re-deploying our combat forces. Obviously, that is no longer the case. Key is now offering the vague goal of ‘combating global terrorism” as his rationale.

At the very least, New Zealand needs to know far more about the country whose destiny we will now be fighting – and in some cases, dying – to determine. To that end, Werewolf contacted US Afghan expert and leading military adviser on Afghanistan, Thomas Johnson.

Thomas Johnson is not some left wing academic opposed to the Afghan war on principle. Far from it. He is a senior faculty member of the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. This link makes it clear that in his capacity as the director of the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies, Johnson works in co-ordination with the Department of National Security Affairs to conduct research in support of United States initiatives in Afghanistan :

Our research provides comprehensive assessments of provincial and district tribal and clan networks in Afghanistan, anthropological assessments of Afghan villages, and assessments of the operational culture of Afghan districts and villages.

Johnson’s analyses – based on extensive field research embedded with US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan – are fed back into briefings to the likes of the Council of Foreign Relations, to military commanders and deploying troops, to academics and the general public. Last October, Johnson published in Atlantic magazine an assessment of the current policy failures of the US Afghan strategy. In a nutshell, US forces are winning the battles and losing the war :

The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is foundering because of the endemic failure to engage and protect rural villages, and to immunize them against insurgency. Many analysts have called for more troops inside the country, and for more effort to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries outside it, in neighboring Pakistan. Both developments would be welcome. Yet neither would solve the central problem of our involvement: the paradigm that has formed the backbone of the international effort since 2003—extending the reach of the central government—is in fact precisely the wrong strategy…..

To reverse its fortunes in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconfigure its operations, creating small development and security teams posted at new compounds in every district in the south and east of the country….

Deploying relatively small units in numerous forward positions would undoubtedly put more troops in harm’s way. But the Taliban have not demonstrated the ability to overrun international elements of this size, and the teams could be mutually reinforcing. (Air support would be critical.) Ultimately, we have to accept a certain amount of risk; you can’t beat a rural insurgency without a rural security presence.

As long as the compounds are discreetly sited, house Afghan soldiers to provide the most visible security presence, and fly the Afghan flag, they need not exacerbate fears of foreign occupation. Instead, they would reinforce the country’s most important, most neglected political units; strengthen the tribal elders; win local support; and reverse the slow slide into strategic failure.

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Kiwi spammers fined...

Two Christchurch, NZ, men have been ordered to pay $150,000 between them after sending two million spam emails

Two Christchurch men must pay substantial fines after admitting being part of a major international spamming operation.

A High Court judge has ordered Shane Atkinson pay $100,000 and Ronald Smits $50,000.

The men were part of a Christchurch business which sent over two million unsolicited emails over four months in 2007, to New Zealand addresses marketing Herbal King branded pharmaceuticals manufactured in India.

Internal Affairs says the New Zealanders were part of the largest pharmaceutical spamming operation in the history of the internet.

Atkinson's brother Lance, who lives in Queensland, has also had to pay $100,000 and is facing court action in the United States.