U.S. Warns Taliban Planning Attack on Aid Workers in Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban are planning to attack foreigners assisting in the aftermath of devastating floods in the country, a senior U.S. official warned Wednesday.

“According to information available to the U.S. government, Tehrik-e-Taliban plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan,” the official told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban “also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad,” the British broadcaster quoted the official as saying.

It is not yet clear what effect the terror warning will have on U.S. involvement in the relief efforts, but Pakistan has assured the U.S. it will press its campaign against insurgents inside its borders despite the extraordinary demands on the country’s military from the floods, officials said.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban faction is a key architect of extremist violence that has left more than 3,500 dead in Pakistan over the last three years, according to AFP.

U.S. officials had previously said they had not encountered any hostilities in flying aid to stricken parts of the country.

The U.S. military official leading the American flood relief mission in Pakistan said he was confident that Islamabad would continue the fight but deflected questions about whether the pace or scope of its efforts might change.

Pakistan will maintain a “dedicated, committed struggle against violent extremism,” Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he worries the insurgents will take advantage of the flooding. Insurgent groups could benefit by providing aid that the central government cannot, or by launching attacks or widening their reach during a period when the Army is occupied elsewhere.

At least one of the Muslim charities involved in aid work is alleged to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned militant organization blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.

“There are millions who are affected right now in Pakistan, and the Pakistani military is heavily engaged in responding to the needs that are generated by these floods,” Mullen said after an appearance in Chicago, Illinois. “In priorities right now, the Pakistani leadership, civil and military, as well as the Pakistani people, have to take care of the floods.”

Other U.S. officials cautioned that Pakistan’s army will be stretched thin by flood relief efforts for at least several more weeks.

The United States wants Islamabad to expand its pursuit of insurgents farther into North Waziristan, a border area next to Afghanistan often described as lawless. U.S. officials are hoping for assurances that Pakistan will not rule out that expansion because of the demands of flood relief.

Two U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the delicate military relationship with Islamabad.

On Tuesday, Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway said Pakistan’s powerful Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, had warned him that the Army was preoccupied.

“The Pakistani leadership is consumed with responding to the aftermath of the flood disaster,” Conway said at the Pentagon. Conway spoke a day after a trip that included a tour of flooded areas in Pakistan.

“Gen. Kiyani cautioned me that the involvement of his Army in the flood relief will for a time detract from their efforts to secure the Pakistani frontier,” Conway said.

The United States has been the most generous contributor to the flood aid, rushing in emergency assistance to support a vital ally in the war against Al Qaida and the Taliban. But rebuilding Pakistan’s devastated roads, power grid and other infrastructure will cost billions of dollars, and it is not certain where the money will come from.

The floods began almost a month ago with the onset of the monsoon and have ravaged much of the country, from the mountainous north through to its agricultural heartland. More than 8 million people are in need of emergency assistance, and more than 17 million have been affected.

The United Nations said some 800,000 people were trapped by the floods in areas accessible only by air. It said 40 more heavy-lift helicopters were urgently needed. The U.S. military has dispatched 19 choppers so far.

Nagata spoke to Pentagon reporters by video teleconference from Ghazi air base, where the United States is coordinating relief efforts.

He said U.S. troops are being received warmly in Pakistan, despite widespread anti-American sentiment there. He said there have been no threats or security problems for the approximately 230 U.S. troops involved in the aid effort.

A recent Pew Foundation poll found nearly six in 10 Pakistanis viewed the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.

( http://www.foxnews.com )

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Iran Begins Fueling 1st Nuclear Reactor

Iranian and Russian engineers began loading fuel Saturday into Iran’s first nuclear power plant, which Moscow has promised to safeguard to prevent material at the site from being used in any potential weapons production.

After years of delays, the fueling of the Bushehr plant in southern Iran marks the startup of a facility for energy production that the U.S. once hoped to block as a way to pressure the country to stop separate nuclear activities of far greater concern.

There have not been strong objections to the Bushehr plant itself as there have been with Iran’s separate efforts at other sites to accelerate uranium enrichment – a process that makes the fuel for power plants but which can also be used in weapons production.

Even as Iran’s nuclear chief said the plant demonstrated the country has only peaceful aims, he celebrated it as a defiant “symbol of Iranian resistance and patience” in the face of Western pressure.

“Despite all pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are now witnessing the startup of the largest symbol of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities,” Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters inside the plant. Washington and other nations do not oppose Iran’s stated aim of producing nuclear energy, but are concerned that if Iran masters the enrichment cycle it would have a pathway to weapons production under the convenient cover of a peaceful energy program. Iran denies such an intention.

It is the enrichment work that has been the target of four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Russia, which helped finish building Bushehr, has pledged to prevent spent nuclear fuel at the site from being shifted to a possible weapons program. After years of delaying its completion, Moscow says it believes the Bushehr project is essential for persuading Iran to cooperate with international efforts to ensure Iran does not develop the bomb.

The United States, while no longer formally objecting to the plant, disagrees and says Iran should not be rewarded while it continues to defy U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.

On Saturday, a first truckload of fuel was taken from a storage site to a fuel “pool” inside the reactor building under the watch of monitors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Over the next two weeks, 163 fuel assemblies – equal to 80 tons of uranium fuel – will be moved inside the building and then into the reactor core.

Workers in white lab coats and helmets led reporters on a tour of the cavernous facility.

It will be another two months before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor is pumping electricity to Iranian cities.

The Bushehr plant is not considered a proliferation risk because the terms of the deal commit the Iranians to allowing the Russians to retrieve all used reactor fuel for reprocessing. Spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used to make atomic weapons. Additionally, Iran has said that IAEA experts will be able to verify that none of the fresh fuel or waste is diverted.

Of greater concern to the West, however, are Iran’s stated plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment sites inside protected mountain strongholds. Iran said recently it will begin construction on the first one in March in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

Nationwide celebrations were planned for Saturday’s fuel loading at Bushehr.

“I thank the Russian government and nation, which cooperated with the great Iranian nation and registered their name in Islamic Iran’s golden history,” Salehi said. “Today is a historic day and will be remembered in history.”

He spoke at a news conference inside the plant with the head of Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation, Sergei Kiriyenko, who said Russia was always committed to the project.

“The countdown to the Bushehr nuclear power plant has started,” Kiriyenko said. “Congratulations.”

Iran’s hard-liners consider the completion of the plant to be a show of defiance against U.N. Security Council sanctions that seek to slow Iran’s other nuclear advances.

Hard-line leader Hamid Reza Taraqi said the launch will boost Iran’s international standing and “will show the failure of all sanctions” against Iran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Friday that Tehran was ready to resume negotiations with the six major powers trying to curb Iran’s enrichment work – the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany.

Ahmadinejad, however, insisted Iran would reject calls to completely halt uranium enrichment, a key U.N. demand. The president had earlier said the talks could start in September, but in an interview with Japan’s biggest newspaper, The Yomiuri Shimbun, he said the talks could start as early as this month.

Russia signed a $1 billion contract to build the Bushehr plant in 1995 but has dragged its feet on completing the work.

Moscow had cited technical reasons for the delays, but analysts say Russia used the project to try to press Iran to ease its defiance over its nuclear program.

The uranium fuel Russia has supplied for Bushehr is well below the more than 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear warhead. Iran is already producing its own uranium enriched to the Bushehr level – about 3.5 percent. It also has started a pilot program of enriching uranium to 20 percent, which officials say is needed for a medical research reactor.

The Bushehr plant overlooks the Persian Gulf and is visible from several miles (kilometers) away with its cream-colored dome dominating the green landscape. Soldiers maintain a 24-hour watch on roads leading up to the plant, manning anti-aircraft guns and supported by numerous radar stations.

There are several housing facilities for employees inside the complex plus a separate large compound housing the families of Russian experts and technicians. The site is about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) south of Tehran.

Russians began shipping fuel for the plant in 2007 and carried out a test-run of the plant in February 2009.

Iran says it plans to build other reactors and says designs for a second rector in southwestern Iran are taking shape.

The Bushehr project dates backs to 1974, when Iran’s U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the shah.

The partially finished plant later sustained damages after it was bombed by Iraq during its 1980-88 war against Iran.

Before making the Russian deal to complete Bushehr, Iran signed pacts with Argentina, Spain and other countries only to see them canceled under U.S. pressure.

( http://www.military.com )

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Commander Describes Road March Out of Iraq

The redeployment of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Iraq demonstrated the changes that have happened in the country, the brigade’s commander said today. In a telephone interview from Kuwait, Army Col. John Norris spoke about the unit’s road march from Baghdad to Kuwait.

The extensive media coverage of the unit’s departure from Iraq was a tremendous honor for his soldiers, Norris said, but some of the focus on the brigade being the last full combat brigade out of Iraq ignores the real situation.

“There’s still a significant amount of work to be done, and these guys with the ‘advise and assist’ brigades remaining here have enormous capability and enormous capacity and will be able to work with Iraqi security forces,” the colonel said.

The spin from the media was that this was the end of the mission, Norris said.

“We do not want to shadow the capability that remains in Iraq: 50,000 soldiers in advise-and-assist units is a large signature that will allow Iraqi forces to improve,” he said.

The Stryker brigade was based in western Baghdad and worked daily with Iraqi security forces in that key area. At one time, the area was a dividing point between Sunni and Shiia Muslims, and literally was a tinderbox. But the unit -– based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. — found an increasingly permissive environment as its deployment went along.

During that time, the Iraqi security forces made tremendous progress, Norris said.

“Iraqi security forces provided all the protection for the unit from Taji to Kuwait,” he said. “There was no contact with enemy, and that’s entirely because the Iraqis did such a good job.”

The unit marched out of Iraq to give the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, more options, Norris said. “As a part of the responsible drawdown of forces, our brigade would have started redeploying in July in a phased approach,” Norris explained.

But the Iraqi parliament -– elected in March -– still had not formed a government. The brigade staff looked at the situation and made a recommendation that the brigade stick around and march out, Norris said, enabling the brigade to stay somewhat longer to provide a strategic force for the command.

“Unbeknownst to us, it also provided a relief valve for the rearward movement of theater property,” Norris said. “The option of us driving south relieved the pressure on some of the theater mobility assets.”

Once the decision was made, the tactical road march was planned. The brigade was spread out all over western Baghdad, and the mission was to get 2,200 soldiers in 350 vehicles out of the area.

The brigade moved out over two days, with each battalion forming one of four serials. “That was the general basic concept up front,” Norris said. They made the decision to move at night, since temperatures during the day rise to 120 degrees or more. It also served to keep the American presence off the roads when most Iraqis use them.”

The 350-mile road march would be a tempting target for al-Qaida in Iraq or other terror groups. Planning included the American commands in Iraq and Kuwait. It also included Iraqi security forces.

“We moved from Baghdad and did a rest overnight at Camp Adder [in Talil, Iraq] and then moved south to Kuwait,” Norris said. “It was a good plan, and it went flawlessly. I couldn’t be more proud. There was no enemy contact and very few maintenance issues – flat tires and all recovered by us.

“We were able to move all four of our serials into Kuwait as originally scheduled, with the last crossing into Kuwait on the morning of the 19th,” he continued.

Norris called it “a pretty awesome experience” for him as a commander to realize the unit completed its year-long mission with all the soldiers safely into Kuwait.

The unit will case its colors tomorrow morning and begin the flight back to Joint Base Lewis-McChord early next week.

( http://www.defense.gov )

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S. Korea Studies North’s New Battle Tank

SEOUL – South Korean military and intelligence authorities are scrutinizing the performances of North Korea’s latest main battle tank, believed to be the latest modification of the Soviet-built T-62, officials here said Aug. 17.

The North’s Korean Central Television made public footage of the Pokpung-Ho (Storm) days ago. The rare release of such footage by the secretive North Koreans occurred in the tense aftermath of the March sinking of a South Korean warship near the western sea border.

Last month, South Korean and U.S. forces flexed their muscles during massive air and naval drills off the eastern coast of the peninsula, despite Pyongyang’s warning that it would respond to the war games.

“The new tank appeared to have better mobility, survivability and firepower than the existing Chonma-Ho (Pegasus), apparently,” a South Korean Ministry of National Defense official said on condition of anonymity. “We’re still analyzing the … tank based on the footage from Pyongyang’s state television station. The release of footage of the Pokpung-Ho was quite rare, as the existence of the new tank had sometimes been regarded as a rumor.”

The Pokpung-Ho also is dubbed the M-2002, as the tank is presumed to have been rolled out in 2002, he added.

The North Korean People’s Army is known to operate up to 800 T-62 variants.

Beginning in the late 1970s, North Korea started to produce a modified version of the 115mm gunned T-62 tank, and since then is believed to have made considerable modifications to the basic Soviet and Chinese designs.

According to a recent analysis published by Seoul’s Defense Agency for Technology and Quality, an affiliate of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the Pokpung-Ho is believed to be armed with either a newly developed 125mm or 115mm main gun.

The improved version would be mounted with a 14.5mm KPV anti-aircraft machine gun, which is more powerful than the 12.7mm gun on older tanks, the analysis states.

Other improvements for the Pokpung-Ho include a laser rangefinder, an infrared searchlight and an up-to-date fire control system, according to the publication.

The North Korean Army is believed to have about 3,900 tanks, and only one elite mechanized unit would operate Pokpung-Hos.

The South Korean Army operates about 2,300 tanks, many of which will be replaced by the state-of-the-art K2 Black Panther main battle tank and modified K1A1 tank.

The K2, rolled out in 2007, is an amphibious tank armed with a locally developed 120mm/55-caliber stabilized smoothbore gun. Its 1,500-horsepower engine can power the tank to 70 kilometers per hour on paved roads and 50 kilometers off-road. It can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters.

Meanwhile, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed Aug. 16 that North Korea flew an unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance or as a decoy after it fired nearly 1,200 artillery shells toward the disputed western sea border last week.

It was the first time that a North Korean drone had been spotted over the western waters, the scene of deadly naval battles in the past decade.

“The drone flew over the North’s waters, some 20 kilometers north of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong islands,” said Lt. Col. Won Young-sup at the JCS’ public affairs office. He declined to elaborate on the specifications of the North Korean spy plane.

( http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4748528&c=ASI&s=LAN )

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Rise of the machines: Asia upgrades armour capabilities

Several countries in Asia are now self-sufficient in the design, development and production of almost all types of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), tracked and wheeled, but in some key areas such as engines, transmission and weapons some still rely on foreign contractors or manufacture these under licence.

Malaysia and Singapore have recently purchased fleets of main battle tanks (MBTs) from overseas while other countries, such as the Republic of Korea (ROK), have designed their own MBTs and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to meet their local operational requirements.

A number of contractors facing the general downturn in defence expenditure in Europe are now looking to Asia to help fill their production lines, but in many countries these requirements are now being met by local production.

China is in the vanguard of this armour build-up. Over the last 15 years the country has made rapid progress in the design, development and production of AFVs ranging from MBTs through to light and medium tracked and wheeled vehicles.

The large size of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its rolling acquisitions mean that only part of its fleet of AFVs is of the latest design and for this reason many older AFVs are often upgraded to extend their operational life. In the case of MBTs this usually includes a larger calibre gun, improved ammunition, upgraded fire-control systems (FCS) and greater protection.

In the past China has been a major exporter of AFVs to the Middle East – especially Iran and Iraq – but in recent years the emphasis has shifted to Africa and Asia.

( http://www.janes.com/news/defence/idr/idr100817_1_n.shtml )

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HK416 modular assault rifle / carbine / upper receiver assembly (Germany)

Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO

Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt

Overall length (stock collapsed/extended): 10″ barrel: 686 / 785 mm; 14″ barrel:

Barrel lengths: 10.5″ / 267mm; 14.5″ / 368mm; 16.5″ / 419mm and 20″ / 508mm

Weight: 3.31 kg w. 10.5″ barrel, 3.5kg w 14.5″ barrel

Rate of fire: 700-900 rounds per minute

Magazine capacity: 30 rounds

Following the revision of the OICW Block 1 / XM8 program, the Heckler & Koch company decided to enter the US military and law enforcement markets with the alternative design, which, in fact, looks quite promising. Based on the experience, gained during successful upgrade program of the British SA80 / L85A1 program, HK decided to cure the existing M16 rifles and  M4 carbines from most of their problems, inherent to this 40-years old design. The key improvements, made by HK, are their patented short-stroke gas piston system, borrowed from HK G36 rifle. This system replaced the direct gas system of standard M16 rifle, so no powder residue will remain in the receiver even after long shooting sessions. The “new” gas system also is self-regulating and will work reliably with any barrel length. Other improvements include new buffer assembly, improved bolt, and a cold hammer forged barrel, as well as free-floating handguard with integral Picatinny-type rails. Originally developed as a “drop-in” upper receiver assembly for any standard M16/M4 type lower receiver, HK416 is also available as a complete weapon, with HK-made lower receivers. Current (late 2005) models include carbines with 10.5″ and 14.5″ barrels, and 16.5″ barreled carbine and 20″ barreled rifle will be added later.

Another interesting development, which is apparently based on the upscaled HK416 design, is the HK417 – the 7.62x51NATO rifle that combines AR-15/M16 type ergonomics, layout and handling with improved reliability of HK-made and designed gas piston system. This rifle probably will use HK G3-type magazines. If the rumors about HK417 are true, the 5.56mm HK416 / 7.62mm HK417 combination will be a direct rival to the newest FN SCAR system.

HK416 is a gas operated, selective fired weapon of modular design. It uses short-stroke gas piston that operates the 7-lug rotating bolt. Receiver is made from high grade aluminium alloy. Combination-type safety / fire selector allows for single shots and full automatic mode. Hk416 retains all M16-style controls, including last round bolt hold-open device, rear-based charging handle and magazine release button on the right side of the magazine well. HK416 is fitted with four Picatinny rails as standard, and may accept any type of sighting devices on STANAG-1913 compliant mounts. It also can accept modified HK AG36/AG-C 40mm grenade launcher, which is clamped directly to bottom rail. Buttstock is of typical M4 design, multi-position telescoped.

( http://world.guns.ru/assault/as75-e.htm )

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CZ 805 BREN A1 / A2 assault rifle (Czech republic)

Caliber: 5.56×45 mm NATO, 7.62×39 M43 interchangeable; also 6.8×43 Rem SPC proposed in near future

Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt

Overall length: 910 mm (butt extended)

Barrel length: 360 mm standard, other lengths available

Weight: 3.6 kg less magazine and accessories

Rate of fire: ~ 700 rounds per minute

Magazine capacity: 20, 30 or 100 rounds

The CZ 805 assault rifle was first introduced to the public in 2009, as a possible future replacement for aged Sa. Vz. 58 assault rifles still in use by Czech armed forces. According to the recent news, early in 2010 the CZ 805 was selected as a next standard military rifle for Czech armed forces, with production contract issued to the famous Czech arms factory CZ-UB in the city of Uhersky Brod. It is quite possible that CZ 805 rifles also will be offered for export, either in military (select-fire) or in civilian (semi-automatic only) versions.

The CZ 805 (which is apparently dubbed as “CZ 805 BREN A1” in Czech sources) is a modular weapon of modern appearance. In its layout it is somewhat similar to the Belgian FN SCAR assault rifle (against which CZ 805 competed and won in Czech army trials), but similarity is not exact and there are significant design differences between these two weapon systems.

The CZ 805 assault rifle is of modular, multi-caliber design, with aluminum alloy upper receiver and polymer lower receiver / fire control unit. The magazine housing is a separate detachable unit, which can be replaced in the field in the course of caliber change. CZ 805 also features quick-change barrels, allowing to change calibers and barrel lengths according to the mission profile (in each caliber there there are short carbine barrel, standard barrel and long “marksman” or “squad automatic” barrel). The basic action uses fairy common piston-operated gas action with manual gas regulator, and a rotating bolt locking. For each proposed caliber, there is a separate bolt with appropriate dimensions.

Fire control unit includes ambidextrous safety / fire selector switch, which permits single shots, 2-round bursts and full automatic fire. Charging handle can be installed on either side of the gun, depending on user preferences.
Feed is from detachable box magazines, which are inserted into detachable magazine housing. In standard configuration, the CZ 805 will use proprietary 5.56×45 caliber 30-round magazines made of translucent polymer. Other magazine housings will allow use of STANAG or HK G36 5.56mm magazines, as well as various 7.62×39 and 6.8×43 magazines.
CZ 805 assault rifle is fitted with integral Picatinny rail on the top of receiver, with additional rails running on the sides and the bottom of the forend. Rifle will be issued with folding iron sights, and will also accept a wide variety of additional sighting equipment (red-dot or telescope day sights, night sights, lasers etc). Rifle is equipped with side-folding buttstock, which is adjustable for length of pull, and can be completely removed if maximum compactness is required. Additional equipment also includes new, specially designed 40mm underbarrel grenade launcher CZ G 805 and also a new knife-bayonet.

( http://world.guns.ru/assault/as105-e.htm )

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