Behind the jargon, questions unanswered and lives lost

Shum Khan was a deaf and dumb man who lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay, high in the mountains. When a heavily armed squad from the CIA barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he ”ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces … out of fear and confusion”.The secret CIA paramilitaries shouted at him to stop. Khan could not hear them. He carried on running. So they shot him, saying they were entitled to do so under the carefully graded ”escalation of force” provisions of the US rules of engagement.Khan was wounded but survived. The Americans’ error was explained to them by village elders, so they fetched out what they term ”solatia”, or compensation. The classified intelligence report ends briskly: ”Solatia was made in the form of supplies and the Element mission progressed”.Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called ”blue on white” events cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ”cheap”.US and allied commanders frequently deny allegations of mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or ploys to get compensation, which are contradicted by facts known to the military.But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false.Last September there was a major scandal at Kunduz, in the north of Afghanistan, when a German commander ordered the bombing of a crowd looting two hijacked fuel tankers. The archive circulated to Nato allies records him authorising the airstrike by a US F-15 jet ”after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity”. The ”battle damage assessment” confirmed, it claims, that 56 purely ”enemy insurgents” had died.Media reports followed by official inquiries, however, established something closer to the real death toll. It included 30 to 70 civilians.Some of the more notorious civilian calamities did become public at the time. The logs confirm that an entirely truthful official announcement was made regretting the guidance system failure of one ”smart bomb”. On September 9, 2008, it landed on a village killing 26 civilians.But most of the assaults on civilians recorded here do not appear to have been investigated. The bulk of the ”blue-white” file consists of a catalogue of civilian shootings on nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops. Unco-operative drivers and motorcyclists are frequent targets.Each incident, almost without exception, is described as a meticulous ”escalation of force”.US and British rules require shouts, waves, flares, warning shots and shots into the engine block, before using lethal force. Each time it is claimed that this procedure is followed. Yet ”warning shots” often seem to cause death or injury.Guardian News & Media
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Vaughan disappearance still a mystery one year on

IT’S one year ago today since Janine Vaughan went missing.
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Her suspected abduction sparked a massive police investigation and was the beginning of an unspeakable nightmare for her family.

And while the investigation into her disappearance continues, police are no closer to finding Ms Vaughan or the person responsible for her disappearance.

Detective Inspector Paul Jacob who heads Operation TOKO, the specialist unit established to investigate Ms Vaughan’s disappearance, said despite a lack of fresh information, police continue to work every possible angle of the case.

Ms Vaughan was out on the town, drinking with friends on the night she vanished.

Her best friend Rebecca Medhurst described her as happy and looking forward to Christmas and seeing her family back in Muswellbrook.

But there was no celebration for the Vaughan family last year.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Ms Vaughan left the Tavern with a group of people, but was walking ahead of the crowd when a red car pulled up alongside her near the corner of George and Keppel streets.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Dog issues discussed

RESIDENTS afraid to walk footpaths where unleashed dogs roam and dog owners who now drive their pets to off-leash areas to let them exercise legally met at Wednesday night’s council discussion forum., More than 50 people sat with councillors, executive staff and the city’s senior ranger to discuss dog issues and the Companion Animals Act in the wake of the mauling death of a Bathurst woman on October 31., In a public gallery which included several dog breeders, members of the Denison Dog Training Club and self described “responsible dog owners” the only group which appeared to be unrepresented were owners who failed to control their dogs and let them wander “off leash” around Bathurst., Denison Dog Training Club president, Pat Sherman, raised one of the few laughs in a serious discussion when she said she had a check-chain suitable for dog owners who flouted the regulations of the Act., “The “off leash” thing is a misnomer. People think they can walk down the street with their dog, carrying its leash,” Mrs Sherman said., “Even our top trialling dogs are not left off a leash except in a secure area.” , Mrs Sherman believes the council needs to employ more rangers to enforce the “on-leash” provisions of the Act., She and other dog owners had sympathy for people like Margaret Mauro, a member of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association. Mrs Mauro was one of many seniors who attended the forum., Full story in the Western Advocate.
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Kill-or-capture unit revealed

The NATO coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed ”black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. Details of more than 2000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaeda are held on a ”kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list.In many cases, the unit has set out to seize a target for internment, but in others it has simply killed them without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation.On June 17, 2007, TF 373 launched a mission in Paktika province. The target was a Libyan fighter, Abu Laith al-Libi. The unit was armed with a new weapon, known as Himars – high-mobility artillery rocket system – a pod of six missiles on the back of a small truck.The plan was to launch five rockets at targets in the village of Nangar Khel where TF 373 believed Libi was hiding and then to send in ground troops. The result was that they failed to find Libi but killed six Taliban fighters and then, when they approached the rubble of a madrasa, they found ”initial assessment of 7 x NC KIA” which translates as seven non-combatants killed in action. All of them were children.The coalition made a press statement which owned up to the death of the children and claimed that troops ”had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building”. That claim is consistent with the leaked log. A press release also claimed that Taliban fighters, who undoubtedly were in the compound, had used the children as a shield.The log refers to an unnamed ”elder” said to have ”stated that the children were held against their will” but, against that, there is no suggestion that there were any Taliban in the madrasa where the children died.The rest of the press release was misleading. It suggested that coalition forces had attacked the compound because of ”nefarious activity” there, when the reality was that they had gone there to kill or capture Libi. It made no mention at all of Libi, nor of the failure of the mission. Crucially, it failed to record that TF 373 had fired five rockets, destroying the madrasa and other buildings and killing seven children, before anybody had fired on them – that this looked like a mission to kill and not to capture. Indeed, this was clearly deliberately suppressed.The concealment of TF 373’s role is a constant theme.The pursuit of ”high-value targets” is evidently embedded deep in coalition tactics. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2058.Among those who are listed as being located and killed by TF 373 are Shah Agha, described as an intelligence officer for an improvised explosive device cell, Amir Jan Mutaki, described as a Taliban sub-commander who had organised ambushes on coalition forces, who was shot dead from the air in a TF 373 mission on June 24, 2009; and a target codenamed Ballentine, who was killed on November 16, 2009 during an attack in the village of Lewani, in which a local woman also died.Guardian News & Media
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Push to maintain Walang water supply

WALANG residents turned out en masse to tell Evans Shire Council they want it to continue maintaining their raw water supply.
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Councillors agreed in November to hold a meeting at Walang to address the community’s short-term water supply.

The non-drinking supply is connected to 30 properties at Hillview Estate, Walang.

Council general manager Graeme Taylor said the meeting was well attended, with about 45 residents and seven councillors.

“The general thrust from the residents was they want the council to continue with and improve the [water] supply,” Mr Taylor said. “The big issue for them was emergency arrangements in the event the supply looks like failing.”

Water restrictions are in place in Walang.

Mr Taylor said residents were co-operating with restrictions and there was no immediate risk to the water supply.

However, this could change in January or February.

Now that the council has heard from residents it is expected to make a decision on what to do in the event the water runs out.

The council had been presented with options at its November meeting to supply water via a tanker or turn the supply off.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Weight of pages, but the best is yet to come

How big is big? Attempting to give the Afghan War Logs their place in history requires that this explosion of top secret documentation in the public domain be measured against the yardstick of the sensational 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, which changed the course of the Vietnam War.That effort, which prompted Henry Kissinger to dub Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the papers, as the most dangerous man in America, was a paltry 7000 pages. But apart from revealing how badly the war in Vietnam was going, it also revealed one of Washington’s dirtiest secrets: the US was carpet-bombing neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.By comparison, the logs are enormous – a mind-boggling 92,201 military, intelligence and diplomatic documents – but a first skim by teams from The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel has revealed more of the grinding detail of Barack Obama’s unwinnable war than it has uncovered unknown dimensions of the conflict.That said, Washington is sweating, because WikiLeaks is preparing another tranche of 15,000 documents for release that reportedly include up to 10,000 cable messages from US embassies around the world on fraught issues such as arms deals, trade talks, covert meetings and unvarnished assessments of governments.But already it can be said that the logs will be to Afghanistan what the Pentagon Papers were to Vietnam.To date, the logs’ single new revelation on the conduct of the war is that the Taliban appears to have heat-seeking, surface-to-air missiles – one of which brought down a US helicopter.However, the logs’ greater service to disclosure and transparency is the extent to which they reveal how the governments with troops in Afghanistan sanitise their public account of how badly the war has been going.These are the raw accounts, soaked in the blood and sweat of combat, before they have been prettied up by the triage teams in the Washington and allied PR clinics. We knew there were civilian casualties, but not this many; we had heard of the secret CIA ground missions to assassinate Taliban leaders, now it is confirmed; we have had guarded reports on the use of unmanned drone aircraft in attacks on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, now the picture is fleshed out.With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week dropping another $US500 million ($A558 million) on Washington’s ally Pakistan, there is enough new dirt in the logs on Islamabad’s two-timing with the Taliban to make Americans wonder who is getting the bang for their buck.Washington and its forces on the ground are still recovering from the shock sacking in June of their Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal – and now this.It makes no difference to the public understanding of the progress of the war that the most recent of the logs is dated December 2009. Their sheer weight on being dumped in the public arena will cement the sense of a war being lost and give rise to further demands that the troops be brought home.President Obama has been trying to wriggle out of the words he uttered last year, which were read as a promise to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan in July next year.With the release of the logs, he has just lost a lot of wriggle room.Ellsberg, a strategic analyst with the Rand Corp, famously concluded in his decision to leak the classified history of the Vietnam War: ”We weren’t on the wrong side, we were the wrong side.”At a February screening in Washington of the film The Most Dangerous Man in America, the now grandfatherly whistle-blower appealed for his contemporary equivalent in the US security establishment to take courage and hit the send button.It seems his call was answered.
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Nuclear waste may be coming our way

AS many as 130 truckloads of radioactive waste could be transported through Bathurst over 12 months on its way to a waste repository in Woomera.
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Friends of the Earth brought their “Nuclear Free Ways” campaign to Bathurst yesterday, aimed at stopping the transport and dumping of nuclear waste in NSW.

The Federal Government is planning to establish a National Radioactive Waste Repository at one of three sites near Woomera.

The repository would accommodate low-level radioactive waste from defence, industrial and medical sources across Australia.

However, the bulk of materials requiring transportation would be existing stockpiled waste from the Lucas Heights nuclear facility in Sydney.

Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Loretta O’Brien said the decision to move the waste had been a political one to appease Sutherland Shire residents opposing the construction of a new reactor.

She said the Friends’ were concerned about the risk of an accident along the route and whether emergency services were prepared to cope with radioactive materials. She said this presented risks of radioactive exposure to people and agricultural land, yet the the Federal Government had failed to tell communities on the transport corridor.

Ms O’Brien said burying the waste would contaminate soils and waterways.

But former director of the Australian Radiation Laboratory, Dr Keith Lokan, said 30,000 packages of radioactive materials were transported in Australia every year and there had never been a mishap.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Armstrong riles Tour officials on his final day

FINAL TOUR RESULTSLance Armstrong riled Tour de France officials on his final day on the race after appearing on the podium in black-coloured team strips.RadioShack’s team colours are red and grey.——————————————————-Contador seals Tour victory as Armstrong waves goodbyeSpanish press hail ‘king’ Contador——————————————————-However, seven-time champion Armstrong and his teammates showed up for the 20th and final stage wearing black outfits emblazoned with the number 28.That is a reference to the 28 million people Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation estimates are living with cancer.The American famously battled cancer in 1998 to return to racing and win the Tour seven times consecutively.In recent years his Livestrong foundation has been involved in raising awareness, and funds, in a bid to beat the disease.But his latest bid was kept in check by International Cycling Union (UCI) officials on Sunday.After turning up wearing black for the 20th and final stage from Longjumeau to the Champs Elysees in Paris, the rest of the peloton had to wait while they were forced to change back to red and grey.”It is forbidden to change jersey in a stage race without an authorisation from the UCI,” race jury president Franceso Cenere told French TV.”They had to change jersey otherwise they would have been excluded from the race.”Armstrong decided to try again after the stage, when he and his team turned up at the podium to receive their prize for dominating the teams’ classification wearing black.”In the end, I think the fact we had to change the jerseys (before the stage) gave us some publicity,” Armstrong told France Televisions.On what was his final Tour campaign, Armstrong finished the race nearly 40 minutes behind Spain’s three-time winner Alberto Contador, his former teammate at Astana in 2009.The 38-year-old American is at the centre of serious doping allegations levelled recently by former teammate Floyd Landis.Landis’s accusations have led to the launching of a federal investigation into alleged doping practices of Armstrong and other riders at his former team, US Postal.AFP
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Firefighters’ mercy dash

MORE than 30 firefighters from the Bathurst district were rushed to Blackheath yesterday to help tackle a fire which was threatening homes.
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A team of Rural Fire Service volunteers heading for Penrith had to be redeployed when a blaze, which started in the Megalong Valley near the Shipley Plateau, closed the Great Western Highway and threatened homes in Blackheath.

About 4pm an additional four RFS tankers from the Bathurst/Oberon area and a unit each from Bathurst Fire Brigade and Kelso Fire Brigade were sent to assist as conditions worsened in the Blue Mountains.

At 6pm one house was lost at Medlow Bath and properties were under threat at Blackheath, Evans Lookout Road and Medlow Bath.

Firefighters from Chifley Command including volunteers from Raglan, Evans, Eglinton, Yetholme and Norway (Oberon) received the initial call for help early yesterday morning from Penrith Fire Control headquarters.

Local Rural Fire Service chief Keith Meehan said the Chifley Task Force was deployed at lunchtime, including 16 firefighters, four tankers and a command vehicle.

“They expected to arrive at Penrith by about 3pm and from there were going to be sent to various hot spots to start relieving others for the afternoon and night shifts,” he said.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Alonso wins, Webber sixth

Spaniard Fernando Alonso led Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa to a one-two victory in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim on Sunday.Australia’s Red Bull driver Mark Webber was sixth.—————————————————-‘Cheating’ Ferrari fined $110,000—————————————————-But the race was shrouded in controversy as Massa was in front of Alonso until a call from Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali saw Massa hand the lead to Alonso.Ferrari chief engineer Rob Smedley said to Massa on the team radio: “Alonso is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand?”With 18 laps remaining, the Brazilian gave way to his team-mate.Following the controversial move, Smedley added: “Good lad — just stick with it now, sorry.”Asked to comment on the call afterwards, Massa, who was denied a potential win a year to the day after he fractured his skull in the Hungarian GP, said simply: “I don’t need to say anything about that. He passed me.”Alonso preferred to dwell on the strong team showing.”Sometimes you are quick, sometimes you are slow,” he said.”It’s a very strong result for the team. I think it was a good weekend overall, we improved the car a lot.”Ferrari led from start to finish as both Massa and Alonso passed pole-sitter German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in an exciting start at the Hockenheimring.Vettel, 23, who has still to win a race after starting in pole position, finished in third place ahead of McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button of Great Britain.Webber was sixth in the second Red Bull ahead of Pole Robert Kubica of Renault.Mercedes drivers and fellow Germans Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were eighth and ninth respectively, followed by Russian Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault, who was tenth.Alonso’s win took him to within 34 points of drivers’ championship leader Hamilton, who has 157 points.Defending champion Button is second with 143 points, while Webber and Vettel are equal third with 136 points.AFP
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