CN) – Weapons maker General Dynamics may be liable after an accidental explosion in an Army training exercise killed one soldier and injured three others, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
After a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against General Dynamics, the company claimed it was entitled to immunity as a government defense contractor.
But the federal appeals court in San Francisco denied the appeal, finding that the government contractor defense does not confer immunity, and that the weapons maker can’t appeal the denial of summary judgment based on disputed facts.
Martin Marietta Aluminum Sales, a predecessor of the Virginia-based General Dynamics, manufactured the mortar cartridge, which exploded prematurely at the Hawaii training camp in 2006.
The explosion killed Staff Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez and injured Samuel Oyola-Perez, Julius Riggins and Wilfredo Dayandante.
Experts testified in federal court that the 81mm mortar cartridge may have gone off during the live-fire exercise because of material defects or because the mortar was double-loaded.
In dismissing General Dynamic’s appeal, the three-judge appellate panel ruled that “the government contractor defense is not a grant of immunity and that the district court denied summary judgment on the basis of a disputed issue of material fact.”
The government contractor defense applies only to a strict set of circumstances, specifically when the government has set precise specifications for the contractor and it’s clear that the equipment meets those specifications, according to the ruling.
“Here, there is no proof to establish as a matter of law that the equipment conformed to the government’s precise specifications,” Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote. “In fact, the plaintiffs’ expert determined that the premature explosion was caused by a defect in the cartridge body, voiding or cracking in the high explosive filling, or a foreign body in the high explosive filling. This evidence could allow a finding of noncompliance with the government’s precise specifications.”
Callahan added that even if the panel treated the government contractor defense as a claim of qualified immunity, it lacks jurisdiction to “review an interlocutory appeal of a denial of qualified immunity.”
“Here, the district court’s denial of summary judgment rested on its finding that there is a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the cause of the explosion was double loading, a defect in the cartridge at the manufacturing stage, or some other cause,” she wrote.
“This ruling raises factual issues, rather than legal questions, and thus would not be reviewable on interlocutory appeal.”
The panel dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. General Dynamics’ request that the court treat the appeal as a petition for an extraordinary writ of mandamus also failed, as the company could not “make the type of extraordinary showing required” for the court to do so. Please see the original report here
By Walter Pincus at The Washington Post
Most U.S. troops have departed Iraq, and the remaining 50,000 American forces are due to leave by the end of next year, but the country remains a dangerous place – at least State Department and Pentagon officials believe so.
State has plans to move about 600 employees now living in Baghdad into barracks to be built within the new embassy complex there. Why? “The imminent departure of the military from Iraq and the associated return of property and facilities to the government of Iraq, including a substantial amount of housing, makes the timely construction of the building important to the continued operation of the embassy,” State Department officials said in an August memo explaining the need to get funding rapidly for the barracks building. It is set to cost almost $70 million to construct.
Those officials also said it is “highly likely that the security situation in Baghdad may deteriorate to the point where any other housing would be deemed to be too unsafe and the personnel would not be able to remain in Baghdad.”
A State Department inspector general report released last month offers a sense of what it is like for employees at the embassy. It refers to “severe restrictions on the movement of mission personnel” because of the city’s dangers. It also says the potential for attacks is complicating meetings with Iraqi officials and makes “reaching out to ordinary Iraqi citizens all but impossible.”
In that same memo, the officials noted that the embassy compound itself “is being subjected to lethal indirect fire on a daily basis as the result of increasing political instability in Iraq and the general deterioration in the security situation.”
Noting that one contractor was killed and 15 others wounded in such an attack in July, the officials said it is “highly likely that the security situation will further deteriorate leading up to and after the U.S. military leaves Iraq at the end of 2011.”
A State Department travel warning on Iraq, issued Nov. 5, states that while there are fewer incidents, “violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions, including explosions, kidnappings, and other terrorist and criminal attacks.” It points out that attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the embassy is located, and northern Iraq.
Back in June, State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had approximately 2,700 private contract security personnel in Iraq, 1,800 of whom provided guard service for the embassy and other facilities within the Green Zone, according to a public statement by Charlene R. Lamb, State’s deputy assistant secretary for international programs with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. In October, the contract for providing the embassy guards, valued at about $200 million a year, was awarded to SOC-SMG Inc. of Las Vegas. Please read more here
Hassan Hassan, Courts and Justice Reporter
The National Beta
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2010
Abu Dhabi // The case of a US military veteran accused of possessing weapon accessories without a licence was adjourned yesterday because he was not brought to court from his prison cell.
NA, a former US soldier who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and later worked as a security contractor, was to appear before the State Security Court charged with possessing firearm accessories without a UAE licence.
Chief Justice Shehab al Hammadi scheduled another hearing for next week because NA was not present. It was not clear why he did not appear.
NA’s lawyer, Melhim Faiz, could not present his defence yesterday because of his client’s absence. Mr Faiz said NA did not possess any weapons and that the components were merely four pieces related to a rifle, including a gun-cleaning brush and a front grip. NA has been in prison for nearly two months, according to his lawyer. He was arrested on September 29 in Abu Dhabi, where he stopped for a day before his scheduled trip home.
Mr Faiz said his client was on his way from Iraq to the United States when he was arrested at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The news of his arrest was reported widely in the US, and a Facebook page was created to rally for his release. But US officials told reporters and family they could not interfere in the justice system of a sovereign nation
Civilian mariners are joining the Gator Navy.
by Sam Fellman at the Navy Times
The Navy’s top officer has announced that the service, after some study, will embark a detachment of civil-service mariners on a yet-to-be named amphibious ship during the next year. The trial will test the feasibility of “hybrid crews” aboard amphibious ships, a drastic change under consideration as the Navy tries to cut runaway manpower costs.
Fewer civilian engineers may be required to run the same engineering plant, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said in announcing the initiative Nov. 10 in a speech in Washington.
The initial idea came up in a discussion where amphibs were compared with command ships and submarine tenders, which are already manned by hybrid crews, Roughead said. “We looked at the logistics force and someone said, ‘You know, the amphibious ships are basically the same type of ship.’ They do have more complex combat systems on them that have a lot of need for sailors onboard. And so I said I was comfortable with doing a pilot to see how it would work.”
He continued: “We’re going to take one ship and we’ll see what we learn. It may lead us to nothing more than having to make some modifications to how we run on some of the [Military Sealift Command] ships.”
The announcement of a test ship is a major step forward for the idea, which until now had been in the proposal and evaluation stage. Adm. John Harvey, head of Fleet Forces Command, asked MSC in July to look at options for hybrid crews aboard amphibs.
The proposal raises larger questions about the role of the civilians and may, if extended to the fleet, have large-scale consequences for the enlisted force, as engineering billets would be drastically cut.
Sailors in steam-specific ratings would likely have to convert ratings or leave the service altogether.
“It’s not simply a matter of running with a mixed crew,” Roughead said. “There’s some laws-of-war issues we have to take a look at where the ships may operate, but I do believe it will give us some good information.”
Navy spokesmen declined to specify what ship or even what class would be involved with the trial, or what departments onboard will be transferred to civilian management. The most likely candidate is the engineering department.
Roughead pointed out that sealift ships operate with fewer engineers onboard, a setup that may save money on amphibious ships, although he declined to specify how much.
It is also possible that the civilians would take over other departments, such as supply or deck, both run by civilians on supply ships. Please see the original article here
• Man in uniform turns gun on troops in eastern Afghanistan
• Gunman shot dead after attack
• No British troops in region, but many US forces
Six Nato troops in Afghanistan were shot dead during a training exercise today by a man wearing a border police uniform, the coalition said.
The incident took place in eastern Afghanistan where the majority of foreign forces are from the US. There are no British troops in the region. It is the worst incident involving foreign troops in more than a month.
“An individual in an Afghan border police uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Forces during a training mission today, killing six service members in eastern Afghanistan,” the Nato-led force said in a statement. It said the gunman was then killed in an exchange of shots with other troops.
The shooting occurred in Pachir Wagam district of eastern Nangarhar province, an Afghan official told the Associated Press.
It is not the first time coalition troops have been attacked by a member of the Afghan security forces. Three British troops, including a senior army officer, were murdered by an Afghan colleague inside a patrol base in Helmand province in July. In 2008 two British soldiers were shot and injured by a member of the Afghan security forces and last November five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman who was never caught.
There are 138,000 international troops in Afghanistan waging an increasingly unpopular war, around 100,000 of them American. Combat incidents have increased 300% since 2007.
Earlier this month, Nato leaders today set a deadline of the end of 2014 for a halt to combat operations in Afghanistan.
Afghan army and police forces are now at a level of more than 260,000. They are due to grow to more than 300,000 next year, which should enable the international forces to gradually pull out, leaving behind training missions that will not engage in combat.
Please see the original article here
States Secrets Day 1 at The New York Times
WASHINGTON — A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.
Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.
The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.
Please read the entire report here
by Chris Hughes the Mirror UK
New probe into MoD’s contractors
The Ministry of Defence has suffered twice as many deaths in the war against terror than have previously been reported.
There have officially been 524 deaths of troops and civilians working for the MoD in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts since 9/11 in 2001. But a shocking report will claim there have also been more than 500 unreported deaths – all civilian contractors paid for by the MoD.
Last night a top British military source said: “It is terribly sad so many civilians have been killed while working for the MoD and they should be remembered.
“Most were foreign workers but contracted by the MoD nevertheless, and part of the budgeted force level in both war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Even though they are largely Afghan, Indian and Iraqi, they were employed by the MoD and counted as part of the UK military force in both countries.
And these figures do not count the hundreds of ex-military Brits killed while working in the private security sector in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the case of Afghanistan many work for a company called Supreme, which supplies food and fuel and bills itself as providing “global service solutions”.
But Supreme, according to a military source, are actually contracted by the MoD. Our source added: “Whether they are employed by the MoD or sub-contracted by Supreme is semantics. The MoD is paying them and their deaths should be recorded in public.”
The report, by Andrew Higginson for think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, discusses the number of personnel deployed to the Afghanistan war zone – Operation Herrick, and Iraq – Operation Telic.
It says: “The force level for Operation Herrick in the area of operations is in the region of 10,000 military personnel. “And there are also 6,500 contracted personnel, making a total of 16,500. Analysis by the author for the Aerospace, Defence and Security Trade Association shows that 500 contracted employees on MoD contracts on Operations Telic and Herrick have been killed since 2003.”
The MoD said last night: “Providing support to international military operations is an inherently risky business and sadly one that can lead to the loss of life.
“This is vital work and requires a range of professionals both internationally and locally employed to deliver. As part of the contracting process, interested companies are aware of the risks involved in delivering on contracts in hostile environments.” Please see the original article here
by Dr. Martin Chitsama [ Demining HIV/AIDS Service Foundation ]
at the Journal of ERW and Mine Action
In this article, the author explores how HIV/AIDS affects deminers in the African areas where the disease is most prevalent. He considers how deminers’ lifestyles make them especially susceptible to HIV/AIDS and suggests mobile HIV/AIDS programs can effectively combat this growing threat.
Demining began in Sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1990s, incidentally commencing just a decade after the HIV/AIDS pandemic started calling on the human race.1 According to the 2007 and 2009 Landmine Monitor Reports and national mine-action centers in Africa, at least 50 national and international demining organizations currently conduct landmine-clearance operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, collectively employing more than 10,000 deminers.2 Angola’s National Demining Institute alone has a contingent of 4,000 deminers organized into 18 brigades that are demining across the heavily mined southern African country.2
Considering that all the African States Parties to the Ottawa Convention are lagging behind their targets under Article 5 and are continually calling for extensions, deminers in Africa are set to clear landmines on the continent for many more years. As reported in 2009 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the region is also “more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world.” All in all, “an estimated 22.4 million people are living with HIV in the region—around two thirds of the global total.”3 As a result, large numbers of deminers in Africa are at a significant risk of contracting HIV/AIDS for many reasons, including worker mobility, expatriate labor, extended separation from spouses, remoteness and demining security.
For a deminer, the work-leave cycle provides for limited family time in a year. There is so much to catch up on when families reunite after long separation periods that the question of checking on a spouse’s HIV status is hardly a priority.
The demining-site remoteness means that deminers are cut off from mainstream public-health campaigns, including HIV/AIDS programs. Health workers fear traveling to suspected-mined regions in Africa, which also leaves deminers isolated in terms of outreach programs. Furthermore, deminers are usually 20 to 49 years old, sexually active and tend to have capital to spend while interacting with war-torn communities whose sexually active youths often engage in commercial sex due to limited economic options.
To compound the situation, most demining operators in Sub-Saharan Africa only have informal HIV/AIDS policies, and financial and human resource constraints hamper the transformation of these policies into workplace programs. The inherent risk associated with demining further puts deminers at risk of occupational exposure to HIV transmission when a landmine casualty occurs. All personnel on the demining site are involved if an incident occurs and occupational exposure is probably during the handling of the injured party. Additionally, antiretroviral post-exposure prophylaxis4 is largely absent in the demining industry.
Deminers and HIV/AIDS: An International Perspective
In May 2002, the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development made observations regarding the relationship between deminers and HIV/AIDS risk and recommended that intervention programs be implemented for the sector. The Accelerated Demining Programme in Mozambique claims that while it has lost only one deminer to a mine accident, it has lost 10 to HIV/AIDS.5
The labor laws in some countries, such as Mozambique, demonstrate the difficulties that demining companies face regarding HIV tests and can result in demining operators facing legal problems. For instance, in 2005, Mozambican Labour Minister Helena Taipo rejected an appeal by the U.S.-based demining company RONCO Consulting Corporation against a fine imposed for violating Mozambique’s ban on compulsory HIV tests. In June 2005, the Labour Ministry discovered that when selecting Mozambican sappers to go on a demining mission to Afghanistan, RONCO required them to take HIV tests. Similarly, ArmorGroup was fined in Mozambique for allegedly hiring deminers destined for Cyprus on the basis of HIV results. In addition, Zimbabwe’s Southern Africa Demining Services Agency had to compensate deminers loaned to BACTEC International for South Lebanon operations in 2002 when the deminers were denied deployment on the basis of HIV tests.
Please see the rest of the Article at The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
By Irin at Alert Net
JOHANNESBURG, 26 November 2010 (IRIN) – Demining operations in 2009 cleared the largest area of land in a single year since the landmark 1999 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) was implemented, and the lowest annual casualty rate was also recorded, said the 2010 Landmine Monitor report released on 24 November.
“In 2009, 3,956 new landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) casualties were recorded, the lowest number for any year since the Monitor began reporting in 1999… [however,] because of incomplete data collection the actual number of casualties is certainly significantly higher,” the Monitor said in a statement.
The Landmine Monitor, an oversight initiative by civil society, keeps a watchful eye on implementation of the MBT and compliance with its terms, which seek to end the use of antipersonnel mines by states and non-state armed groups, and destroy all stockpiles of the weapons. Its editorial board is drawn from five organizations: Mines Action Canada, Action On Armed Violence, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, and Norwegian People’s Aid.
“Mine action programmes cleared at least 198 sq km of mined areas in 2009, by far the highest annual total ever recorded … resulting in the destruction of more than 255,000 antipersonnel mines and 37,000 antivehicle mines. At least 359 sq km of former battle areas were cleared in 2009, disposing of 2.2 million ERW. Eighty percent of recorded clearance occurred in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, and Sri Lanka,” the statement said. The record clearance could be attributed to “momentum, political will and the stability of the funding mechanism [for mine action]”, Mark Hiznay, the final editor of Landmine Monitor 2010, told IRIN.
The Landmine Monitor noted that “International funding for mine action remained stable despite the global economic downturn. International support for mine action totalled US$449 million, the fourth consecutive year that funding has surpassed $400 million.
” The United States, although not a signatory to the treaty signed by 80 percent of the world’s countries, provided $119 million of the total. Afghanistan was the single largest beneficiary of mine action funds, receiving $107 million. Hiznay said most of the mine clearance in Afghanistan was humanitarian, with some demining occurring in areas where coalition forces were battling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but “NATO forces are more concerned by IEDs [improvised explosive devices].
” The use of landmines is diminishing and the only government forces thought still to use them is Myanmar, although “there were disturbing allegations of use of mines by the armed forces of Turkey, a State Party [to the MBT], which the [Turkish] government is investigating,” the Landmine Monitor said. For the first time, Russia dropped from the list of states using landmines.
Non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Yemen continued to employ the weapon. The destruction of stockpiles in 86 states, numbering about 45 million antipersonnel mines, was completed, but “Ukraine joined Belarus, Greece and Turkey in failing to meet their treaty-mandated stockpile destruction deadlines, placing all four in serious violation of the Mine Ban Treaty,” the Landmine Monitor noted. Survivor assistance Hiznay said victim assistance needed to improve, but acknowledged this was the hardest aspect of the MBT, as “it involves a lifetime of support and it is not just a question of handing someone a prosthetic.” Nine percent of mine action funding in 2009 was dedicated to victim assistance.
“While survivors know their needs and rights best, it is disappointing that survivors or their representative organizations were involved in victim assistance implementation in less than half of affected countries,” the Monitor’s Casualties and Victim Assistance Editor, Katleen Maes of Handicap International, said in the statement.
The Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 29 November to 3 December 2010
Recruiters in Los Angeles walk the streets of Little Persia trying to find candidates who speak Dari, Pashto or Farsi, but many in the communities have reservations about the war.
By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
The day after President Barack Obama declared an end to the combat mission in Iraq, Aman Zamani walked the main thoroughfare of Little Persia to recruit soldiers for the country’s other war.
He strolled down Westwood Boulevard, passing an Iranian music store and young men in Armani jeans, and walked into Saffron & Rose Ice Cream. He chatted with the owner in Farsi and ordered white rose ice cream with milk, fulfilling a cultural obligation to make a purchase from a shopkeeper before talking business. A map of ancient Persia hung on a wall by the door.
Zamani knew the shop was popular with young Afghans and Iranians, so he’d brought along a thick stack of business cards. But today, the shop was empty. He finished his ice cream and left.
“It is a hard job to find the right person to recruit for the Army,” he said.
As the United States continues its military shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, the recruitment of Army translators and interpreters has followed, and Zamani, a contractor who recruits for the Army, is among those who have fanned out to Afghan and Persian communities and shopping districts looking for potential linguists to help fight the war.
The recruitment trail can be challenging. The pool of candidates who speak Dari, Pashto or Farsi is far thinner than the Arabic speakers the military sought out during the Iraq war. And many in the communities have reservations about the war.
The Army has been able to sign up only nine Los Angeles-area recruits for the language program in the last year, far short of the goal of 48 local enlistees and just a fraction of the 250 signed nationwide.
“It’s a much smaller population…. We’re involved in a lot of community liaison activities and I expect this year to do more than in years past,” said Lt. Col. Frank Demith, assistant deputy for foreign language and culture for the Army. “It’s much harder to recruit.”
The Army’s projected shortage of translators comes at a time when the need is most crucial — as the U.S. ramps up preparing an Afghan police, army and justice system and meeting with local councils in preparation for an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Last weekend, NATO leaders set a goal of 2014 to transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan government — a longer timeline than initially thought — as alliance forces increasingly focus on training, advising and logistics, areas in which specialized linguists are critical.
“You’re not simply looking for language, you’re looking for expertise, you’re looking for people who can operate in combat zones, you’re looking for people who can work with local officials,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Once enlisted, recruits go through basic training, though when deployed their names are not stitched onto their uniforms for security reasons. Some are quickly shipped to Afghanistan; others — especially women — remain stateside to train soldiers preparing to deploy.
On the front lines, translators often accompany commanders and high-level officials to meetings with Afghan governors and leaders. Sometimes their value goes beyond simple translations.
One soldier, who asked not to be identified because of security risks, recounted interceding when he saw U.S. soldiers shooting toward a mountain pass in Afghanistan during target practice. The soldier, who had grown up in the area, knew there was a village on the other side of the mountains and believes he probably prevented casualties.
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz authorized the recruitment of soldiers with special language and cultural skills in 2003 after the U.S. invaded Iraq. At the time, the main focus was on Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish.
“Our mission mirrored our presence overseas,” Demith said.
Although military action began first in Afghanistan, Iraq was viewed as the longer commitment and Arabic remained the military’s main focus until troop deployment to Afghanistan began to spike.
The Arab population in the U.S. is three times larger than the Afghan and Persian population, and winning recruits in those communities is complicated because military contractors compete for the same pool of applicants, offering better pay and less long-term commitment.
Zamani, born in Kabul and a U.S. resident since 1981, began with the Los Angeles Army battalion in April but recently quit the assignment because of the long drive from his home in south Orange County. He now works for private firms that recruit for the Army.
During his six-month stint with the Army, Zamani met with potential recruits to explain the program and test their native language skills. It was a less-than-exhaustive examination.
“Can you tell me in Pashto, ‘I want to go to Afghanistan to work for the people?’ ” he asked a man who had been brought by a recruiter to the battalion in Encino.
The man, whose long black hair fell to his chin, repeated the sentence in Pashto.
“I want to join with the U.S. Army,” Zamani said, giving the man another line, which he repeated successfully. “OK, he speaks Pashto, English is good, whatever the process is you can start it.”
“That’s it?” the man asked, surprised.
Zamani gave him handouts in both English and Pashto and told him about the signing bonus, education money and citizenship. Even though the man was going on two years of unemployment with mounting debt, he still wasn’t eager to enlist.
The pitch to potential enlistees mainly focuses on the benefits, long-term stability and expedited citizenship rather than a patriotic appeal.
Occasionally, Zamani was confronted by people who felt his recruitment on behalf of the Army was a betrayal.
Please read the entire article here
The New York Times Asia Pacific
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.
But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”
American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.
NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.
Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.
American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour — who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar. A man who had known Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. “He said he didn’t recognize him,” said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Western diplomat said the Afghan man was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return.
While the Afghan official said he still harbored hopes that the man would return for another round of talks, American and other Western officials said they had concluded that the man in question was not Mr. Mansour. Just how the Americans reached such a definitive conclusion — whether, for instance, they were able to positively establish his identity through fingerprints or some other means — is unknown.
As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war.
The American officials said they and officials of other NATO governments were helping to facilitate the discussions, by providing air transport and securing roadways for Taliban leaders coming from Pakistan.
Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized — and Mr. Mansour’s life put at risk — if his involvement were publicized. The Times agreed to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name, along with the names of two other Taliban leaders said to be involved in the discussions. The status of the other two Taliban leaders said to be involved is not clear. Read the entire story here
Acquisition of privately held MTCSC will bolster ManTech’s cybersecurity, network engineering, and systems integration practices.
ManTech said this week it plans to purchase private federal contractor MTCSC for $75 million, a move that will expand its cybersecurity, network engineering, and systems integration practices.
Already one of the largest government contractors, ManTech said it will pay cash for the company, taking the money from an existing balance, it said.
It’s the second acquisition for ManTech in as many months; last month the firm closed a $60 million purchase of QuinetiQ North America’s security and intelligence solutions business. Read more here
COVINA – After multiple tours of duty as a scout sniper and a stint as a contractor in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, a former Marine died unexpectedly at home last week.
Eric Sandoval, 30, of Covina had come home from the Middle East in October to help his wife, who had knee surgery, according to a family friend. After a week of head aches and neck pain, Sandoval died suddenly November 12.
He had been working for contractor MVM Inc. in Iraq.
“It was such a shock,” said sister-in-law Jamie York. “Nothing raised a red flag to anybody.”
The cause of Sandoval’s death is being investigated by L.A. County coroner’s office, York said, and the family is wondering if it’s a result of possible brain injury from a bomb blast he survived while a serving as a soldier.
Friends and family described Sandoval as family-oriented, smart, hard-working and loving.
“He was like a father to so many people,” said Nancy Muniz, a family friend. “He took a parental role for his family.”
Sandoval’s wife Sandy said in an email he helped people less fortunate by doing things, such as building homes in Guam.
“Perhaps his biggest gift was the ability to bring family and friends together. Having him home meant barbecues, family, and many laughs,” she wrote.
Sandoval graduated early from Pomona High School and enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, his family said.
He also earned a degree in accounting and a Master’s degree in business administration, Muniz said.
“He was like an onion – he was so multidimensional,” York said. “His laugh could make anyone smile.”
Sandoval is survived by his wife, Sandy, his 6-year-old son Isaiah, and siblings Robert, Danny, Gabby, Alejandra, Jonathan and Steven.
A viewing and rosary from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday and funeral services at 9 a.m. on Monday at Forest Lawn in Covina.
Prosecutors allege that Samir Mahmoud Itani and his company American Grocers Ltd. changed the labels on food with a short shelf life and sold it to the U.S. military from 2003 to 2006 duringthe Iraq War.
By P.J. Huffstutter and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
A Texas businessman has agreed to pay $15 million to settle federal allegations of defrauding the government by selling old and potentially dangerous food to the U.S. military to supply combat soldiers serving in Iraq, according to a new federal complaint.
Prosecutors had alleged that Samir Mahmoud Itani and his company American Grocers Ltd. profiteered off the war in Iraq by buying food products with a short shelf life, paying a deep discount for them – and changing the labels to make them seem fresher than they really were.
Itani’s privately held American Grocers purchased core staples from some of the country’s leading food manufacturers, including Kraft Foods International Inc., the Hershey Co., Frito-Lay North America, Sara Lee Corp. and ConAgra Foodservice, according to the civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Houston and interviews with the whistleblower in the case
Itani allegedly ordered employees to alter the packaging of a long shopping list — which included boxes of potato flakes, salad dressings, containers of lobster and ground hamburger patties among other things — in order to meet military procurement contractor requirements for freshness. And as the country’s military presence grew in the Middle East, Itani’s business boomed.
Prosecutors said that Itani, 51, two family members and a tight-knit group of business acquaintances used this scheme to sell at least $36 million worth of adulterated food products to the government from about 2003 to 2006 during the Iraq War, also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“All it took,” according to the complaint, “was false promises, a warehouse and a few hundred buckets of nail polish remover.”
After semi-trucks loaded with pallets of raw Jennie-O turkeys, blocks of Kraft cheese and vats of J.M. Smucker’s peanut butter arrived at the warehouse and unloaded the goods, employees used acetone, spray paint or a small drill to erase the expiration dates on the product labels, according to court filings unsealed this week.
New dates were then printed out or stamped onto new stickers, according to the filings. The new labels falsely showed that the food would remain fresh for another nine to 18 months, depending on the product and how much shelf life it had left, according to federal court records.
“Companies that provide supplies to our men and women in uniform must be held to a high standard,” said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Department of Justice said in a statement. “We will be vigilant in protecting taxpayer funds from fraud, especially where the fraud relates to contracts meant to support our troops.”
Suzanne Itani, chief executive of American Grocers and Samir’s wife, said in a statement that the company still disputes the allegations asserted against it.
However, Itani said, the company is “proud of the service and products it delivers to its customers” and they “look forward to returning our full attention to serving our many loyal customers throughout the world.”
Please see the original at the LA Times
The Nation Thailand
Relevant authorities are closely monitoring Leishmaniasis incidences in the country. This year, three incidences have been reported
Of the three patients, one succumbed to this communicable disease in September and her fiveyearold nephew is among the patients.
“Three other people in their neighbourhood are now under surveillance because they have developed symptoms that can be associated with the disease,” Dr Paisan Kuaarun said yesterday in his capacity as the deputy head of Trang Public Health Office.
Leishmaniasis symptoms include fever, fatigue, weight loss, ulceration, and skin darkening. Infected sand flies spread this disease