The Taliban will ‘never be defeated’

The Taliban will ‘never be defeated’

By Christina Lamb in Rawalpindi, Times


‘Colonel Imam’, the Pakistani agent who trained Mullah Omar and the warlords to fight the Soviets, says the US must negotiate with its enemies

June 6, 2009

THE Pakistani intelligence agent who trained Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, to fight has warned that Nato forces will never overpower their enemies in Afghanistan and should talk to them rather than sacrifice more lives.

“You can never win the war in Afghanistan,” said so-called “Colonel Imam”, who ran a training programme for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union’s occupation from 1979 to 1989, then helped to form the Taliban.

“I have worked with these people since the 1970s and I tell you they will never be defeated. Anyone who has come here has got stuck. The more you kill, the more they will expand.”

A tall, bearded figure, whose real name is Amir Sultan Tarar, he trained at Fort Bragg, the US army base where America’s special forces are stationed.

During the late 1970s and 1980s he controlled CIA-funded training camps for 95,000 Afghans and often accompanied his students on missions.

After the Soviet defeat and the collapse of communism, he was invited to the White House by the first President George Bush and was given a piece of the Berlin Wall with a brass plaque inscribed: “To the one who dealt the first blow.”

Today western intelligence agencies believe Imam is among a group of renegade officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who continued to help the Taliban after Pakistan turned against them following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

United Nations officials and Afghanistan’s intelligence service have reported sightings of him in the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan. It is a charge he shrugs off, claiming that at 65 he has not worked for almost eight years.

“I wish I could do it but they don’t need me any more,” he says. “My students are far ahead of me now. They are giving a lesson to the world. I am very proud of them.”

Although he expresses great admiration for the British military (“far more gallant than the Americans”), Imam says that in sending troops to Helmand, Britain had forgotten its previous wars in Afghanistan.

In particular, he chides, they should have remembered the battle of Maiwand in 1880, in which 2,500 British troops took on 25,000 Afghans and suffered a devastating defeat.

“When people in Helmand heard the British were coming back, the cry went up all over: ‘Remember Maiwand? Our old enemy has come to the same area where they were once defeated to take revenge’. Then everyone, Taliban and nonTaliban, joined together. They told me on the phone, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the Brits don’t have an easy time’.”

His comments come as the number of British soldiers killed by enemy action in Afghanistan has risen to 137, one more than the number who have died in Iraq.

According to Imam, Helmand is particularly difficult because of the character of the people. “They couldn’t care less about loss of property or loss of life,” he said.

It is unlikely that anybody alive today knows the Afghans as well as Imam. All the key figures were trained in his camps, from the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panj-shir, to warlords such as Gul-buddin Hekmatyar, his “naughtiest” student. “It was a matter of pride for me that my students later became big commanders,” he said.

“The Afghan is a very cunning soldier,” he added. “He picks things up very quickly and never forgets. As a Pakistani unit commander I’d be training my men for six months and maybe they would remember 70%. But in Afghanistan teenagers came, had only three days’ weapon training and they remembered 100%. In just 15 days they mastered the Stinger [the shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile].”

Omar passed through his camps in 1985. “He was a simple man, a small commander leading a maximum of 40 people and didn’t have much weaponry,” Imam recalled.

One of Imam’s biggest backers was Congressman Charlie Wilson, the Texan who was instrumental in securing funding for Operation Cyclone, the CIA programme to supply arms with which the mujaheddin would fight the Soviet troops.

“He used to dance with happiness at seeing our training camps,” said Imam.

Within 10 years the Russians had been forced out. “Total expenditure just $5 billion and not a single American life,” said Imam. “Now the Americans are spending hundreds of billions and losing hundreds of lives.”

The last time he saw Wilson was after the 1988 Geneva accords on the Soviet withdrawal. Imam told him: “You’re abandoning the Afghans. They need financial support for rehabilitation.” Wilson replied: “Dollars don’t grow on trees.” “Do Afghan youth grow on trees?” asked Imam. “Over 1.5m Afghans have died.”

Furious at the American betrayal and devastated by the resulting infighting in the Afghan resistance, he became close to Omar. “I love him,” he said. “He brought peace to Afghanistan.”

Imam was Pakistan’s consul-general in Herat when the Taliban captured the city in 1995 from Ismail Khan, the mujaheddin commander, who claims the ISI agent oversaw the whole Taliban operation. From there he guided the Taliban as they took over the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad and eventually captured Kabul.

Like many Pakistanis he refuses to believe the September 11 attacks were carried out by Osama Bin Laden. “An operation like that needs ground support,” he said. “I have no doubt it was carried out by the Americans to give a bad name to the Taliban government as an excuse to topple it.”

When General Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, agreed to American pressure to cut ties to the Taliban, the colonel was outraged.

Recalled to Islamabad, he told Musharraf: “You cannot defeat these people, they are well trained, they have a lot of ammunition and the more you kill, the more supporters will come.”

Today he adds: “It was the blunder of his life and because of it we are all doomed.”

Imam left Afghanistan when the US bombing of the country ceased in 2001 and claims he has not returned. “I can go any time on my old routes, even the Americans cannot stop me, but there is no need,” he said. “I have friends roaming all over there. At times they give me a call, they like to hear my voice.

“I’m quite happy with the current situation because the Americans are trapped there. The Taliban will not win but in the end the enemy will tire, like the Russians.”

He has offered to find the Americans a way out: “We can give them a face-saving solution but they must change their strategy.”

First, he says, they must spend billions on reconstruction. Then they must open talks with Omar rather than the so-called moderate Taliban with whom negotiations are under way.

“When are you people going to understand there are no number two Taliban?” he asked. “Those who break away from mainstream Taliban have no place in society. You may make deals in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, but when they come back to Afghanistan and people know they have compromised with the Americans, they are finished.

“In Afghanistan the only man who can make a decision and people listen is Mullah Omar. He’s a very reasonable man. He would listen and work for the interests of his country.”

He insisted the Taliban leader was not in Pakistan: “He’s in the hills of Uruzgan, his home province. If there’s a requirement he will listen to me, but why should I get him involved in a risky situation?”

Imam said he had watched with horror as fighting spread into Pakistan and had been shocked to see his fellow officers having to fight against their own countrymen in the Swat district.

“These are not Taliban, they are tribals,” he said. “Mullah Omar told them time and time again not to fight against Pakistan. They are fighting against the government of Pakistan because it is supporting the enemies of Islam. Everybody knows our government is supporting the US drone attacks in our own area.

“This is an American plan to make us a subjugated country and have an excuse to get our nukes. Everybody, your prime minister, President Obama, all go, ‘Oh, the nuclear weapons are unsafe’. I say you’re making them unsafe. When you were not in the region there was no problem.”

The call for prayer brings our interview to an end. Before he goes he has one last warning: “I tell you when my nation rises up it is not Afghanistan, not Iraq. There will be tremendous killing.”


Denied Infamy: The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty

Denied Infamy: The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty

Sunday, 07 June 2009 01:00 Alan Sabrosky
USS Liberty

Americans respond badly to treachery. This may explain why they went into WWII against Nazi Germany with determination but against Imperial Japan with rage, even though Hitler was decidedly the more vicious enemy. The reason lay in Japan’s surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, described by then-President Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.”

The Attack

Less catastrophic but more treacherous and deserving of infamy was the deliberate Israeli air and naval attack upon the USS Liberty, a clearly marked naval intelligence ship, on June 8, 1967. After several hours of aerial surveillance, unmarked aircraft attacked the USS Liberty with gunfire, rockets and napalm. This was followed by an attack by three motor torpedo boats, firing torpedoes and then machine-gunning the ship, its crew and their lifeboats. The ship managed to get out a call for help under extraordinary circumstances, but was nearly sunk, and more than 200 American sailors and Marines were killed or wounded. Israel claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, and the US Government accepted that explanation.

Both lied, and Israel’s lies become evident when one examines the profiles of the USS Liberty and the Egyptian ship the Israelis supposedly thought they were attacking, plus a photo of the USS Liberty itself. Misidentification in a December gale in the North Atlantic might have been possible. On a June day in the Eastern Mediterranean, never, at least by any pilot with the visual acuity to take off and land his aircraft:

Remember that in 1967, Israel’s fighters and motor torpedo boats had to get close to use their on-board weapons against a target. Anyone seeing the radars and electronic arrays on the USS Liberty knew this was not some Egyptian tramp steamer. Finally, there is the USN designation “GTR5” on both sides of the bow & the stern, with the number larger than the letters — anyone approaching the ship close enough to attack cannot miss that designation, and know that this was a US Navy ship.


Why the Attack

But the Israelis attacked anyway, and tried very hard to sink the ship without any survivors while concealing their own identity. They were aided and abetted by US President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who personally recalled separate flights of fighters launched from the 6th Fleet’s aircraft carriers USS Saratoga and USS America, fighters whose arrival over the USS Liberty would have saved most American lives and cost the Israelis a number of aircraft and motor torpedo boats.

What Johnson and McNamara did is appalling. As a Marine who served in Vietnam, I have always despised them for their arrogance and incompetence. After understanding their role in the USS Liberty tragedy, I now despise them twice over for their cowardice and their dereliction of duty, and for giving precedence to a domestic Jewish lobby and their own political interests over the lives of Americans in uniform.
At the very least, both were indictable accessories after the fact in the murder at sea of
34 Americans and a breach of international law, in open violation of their own oaths of office.

So why did the Israelis do it? One possibility is that for them, it was simply business as usual. Israel has a long history of attacking anything in its path – a civilian airliner, UN posts and officials, refugee camps, hospitals, the lot — and then denying culpability, so the question is not “why,” but “why not?” Another was to dispose of inconvenient witnesses to the murder of Egyptian prisoners and civilians at El Arish.
A third was to cloak their strategy of involving Jordan so as to take East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And a fourth was to show other Arab countries that they had such influence in the US that they could do it and get away with it, and perhaps involve the
US militarily on their side.

Fixing Things

Any of these would have sufficed. What is important to note is that the Israelis had no qualms about deliberately killing Americans and concealing their own identity, doubtless hoping to bring the US in on their side openly attacking Egypt — they won handily anyway, but they could not be certain of doing so at the beginning of the war. It is something to keep in mind as a possible precedent when we look later at the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 and made the US an active belligerent intent on destroying Israel’s enemies.

The tale of the USS Liberty needs to reach the American people. It needs to reach them in a medium that will convey the calculated nature of the attack and the outrage it should evoke. And it should conclude with the statements of so many people in positions of authority at the time who said categorically that the attack was deliberate, and of survivors who lost shipmates there and likewise are convinced that the attack was deliberate and that their own government abandoned them at the time of the attack, and betrayed them afterwards.

Few events are so calculated to enrage Americans as the image of a US ship being deliberately attacked and Americans being killed and wounded by a supposed ally, for its own local purposes. That this “ally’s” influence in the US government was so great that a US president ordered back fighters whose arrival would have prevented most of the 200 casualties on the USS Liberty from occurring would compound that outrage. And that this influence allowed Israel both to evade retribution at the time and to conceal knowledge of what happened from the American people, would add insult to compound outrage.

This is the factually accurate message Americans need to see and hear, and it is a message that could impact sharply on what members of Congress — whose jobs depend on votes even more than they do on Jewish money — would be prepared to do to or for Israel. It could also give President Obama political room for diplomatic maneuver IF he seriously would like to reorient the way the US does its business in the Middle East.

AIPAC, its cohorts and the hasbara crowd will howl. There will be the usual flurry of fabrications, denials, falsehoods, fear-mongering, character assassination and disinformation that is their specialty. But at the end of the day, more and more Americans will see graphic portrayals of an American ship attacked — and especially of uniformed Americans killed and wounded — by a foreign country named Israel, whose domestic clout within the United States in 1967 allowed them to do it with impunity, and whose extended clout since that time has already produced one American tragedy (9/11), taken the US into two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and is pointing the US towards two more wars (Iran and Syria). And there is a good chance that a growing number of Americans will say, “Enough! Never again….” and make things happen. Let us begin.

Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at // <![CDATA[
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Waziristan tribes angry with Taliban

Waziristan tribes angry with Taliban

* Military offensive in Waziristan expected to begin in a month or two

Daily Times Monitor

LAHORE: With Pakistan on the brink of taking its anti-Taliban campaign to the Tribal Areas, civilian as well as military leaders in Islamabad are banking on growing anger with the Pakistani Taliban among tribesmen, the Wall Street Journal has said.

Popular support for the insurgents undermined years of attempts to subdue the border areas. The region is largely off limits to outsiders – foreigners and Pakistanis alike.

But the military hopes to channel the disenchantment behind its coming campaign in Waziristan. An estimated 15,000 Taliban from Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan are said to have massed in the area. The military offensive is expected to begin in the next month or two.

Anger at the Taliban mirrors a broader anti-Taliban sentiment across Pakistan.

The military launched its assault in Swat about a month ago after the Taliban violated a peace agreement that gave them control of the area.

The Tribal Areas represent a far greater challenge. Intelligence officials say top leaders of the Swat Taliban have retreated, along with hundreds of followers, to North and South Waziristan.

There still is broad popular support in the area for the Taliban fighting United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also enjoy the support of tens of thousands of people whose relatives were killed or homes flattened in the military’s attempts to assert authority in the Tribal Areas.

Pakistanis avenge mosque blast, attack Taliban

Pakistanis avenge mosque blast, attack Taliban

By ASIF SHAHZAD – 1 hour ago

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Pakistanis banded together and attacked Taliban strongholds in a troubled northwestern region to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a local mosque, a top government official said Sunday.

The incident Saturday underscored a swing in the national mood toward a more anti-Taliban stance — a shift that comes as suicide attacks have surged and the military wages an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

Some 400 villagers from neighboring Upper Dir district, where a suicide bomber killed 33 worshippers at a mosque in the Haya Gai area on Friday, formed a militia and attacked five villages in the nearby Dhok Darra area, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district coordination officer.

The citizens’ militia has occupied three of the villages since Saturday and is trying to push the Taliban out of the other two. Some 20 houses suspected of harboring Taliban were destroyed, he said. At least four militants were killed, he said.

The government has in the past encouraged local citizens to set up militias, known as lashkars, to oust Taliban fighters.

“It is something very positive that tribesmen are standing against the militants. It will discourage the miscreants,” Rehman said.

The surge in suicide attacks reached Pakistan’s capital late Saturday when a man wearing an explosive-laden jacket attacked a police compound but was shot down before he could enter the main building. Two officers died and six others were wounded, police said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack at the police emergency response center in a residential Islamabad neighborhood, but it fit with a Taliban threat of strikes in major cities across Pakistan in retaliation for the military’s month-old offensive in Swat.

The Swat battle is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to take on militants challenging the government in the northwestern regions near Afghanistan. More than 1,300 militants and 105 soldiers have died so far during the offensive, the military says.

The U.S. supports the Swat offensive, hoping it will eliminate a potential sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban militants implicated in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.

The campaign began after the collapse of the most recent peace deal, which imposed Islamic law in Swat and surrounding districts. The agreement was brokered by hard-line cleric Sufi Muhammad, three of whose aides were arrested by security forces last week. Two of the aides were killed Saturday after the Taliban attacked their convoy, the army said.

The motive for the ambush was unclear. It could have been an attempt to rescue the men or kill them before they gave intelligence to the military.

But Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan claimed Sunday that Pakistani authorities killed the men because U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke was visiting.

“It is a gift the government has presented to Holbrooke,” Khan told The Associated Press via phone from an undisclosed location. “We believe that they are martyred. We want to tell the government that their martyrdom is not going to be futile.”

There have been tensions between Sufi Muhammad’s movement and the Taliban, who themselves are composed of different factions.

In Bajur tribal region, a clash between the two groups left four dead Saturday, a local official said. The fight occurred over the alleged abduction of a Taliban commander, said Faramoosh Khan, an administrator in Bajur’s Mamund town.

Bajur was the focus of a previous military offensive, and the military said it vanquished the Taliban there in February, but reports of militant activity in the region persist.

Associated Press Writer Habib Khan contributed to this report from Khar.

Official: Al-Qaeda like a fast food franchise ‘ for terrorism’

An Algerian policeman patrols in the desert at the Moroccan border in May. The shadowy network of Algerian cells recruits Islamic radicals throughout northern and western Africa.

Official: Al-Qaeda like a fast food franchise ‘ for terrorism’

By Alfred De Montesquiou, Associated Press
DRAA BEN KHEDDA, Algeria — Deep in the Sahara Desert, along the remote southern borders of Algeria, lies an immense no man’s land where militants roam.

It is here that terrorists linked with al-Qaeda traffic everything from weapons and drugs to illegal migrants. They have planted at least a half-dozen cells in Europe, according to French, Italian and Belgian intelligence. Last week, they announced on the Internet that they had killed a British hostage in Mali, and are still holding a Swiss hostage. The al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is perhaps the best example of how al-Qaeda is morphing and broadening its reach through loose relationships with local offshoots. The shadowy network of Algerian cells recruits Islamist radicals throughout northern and western Africa, trains them and sends them to fight in the region or Iraq, according to Western and North African intelligence officials who asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of their jobs. In turn, AQIM gets al-Qaeda’s brand name and some corporate know-how.

“The relationship with the al-Qaeda mother company works like in a multinational,” says Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s former top counterterrorism judge and an expert on North African networks. “There’s a strong ideological link, but the local subsidiary operates on its own.”

Another Western intelligence official compares AQIM to a local fast food franchise, “only for terrorism.”

A picture of AQIM and its ties with al-Qaeda emerges from accounts by its victims, interviews with some of the dozens of intelligence officials following its activities and data pieced together by Western diplomats in Algeria.

It shows that the battle against radical Islam in Algeria has become crucial — and not only for North Africa. Intelligence officials throughout Europe are convinced that AQIM wants to expand in their region.

A senior counterterrorism official in France, who was not authorized to talk on the record, told The Associated Press that his services work “daily, constantly” with Algerian security to contain this threat. He says at least six AQIM-related cells, dormant or getting ready for action, have been dismantled across Europe in recent years.

Last month, the Spanish judiciary announced it had caught 12 Algerians from a suspected support cell. And last week, Italian authorities issued arrest warrants for two Tunisians, two Moroccans and an Algerian suspected of plotting attacks on a church and a subway line.

“For now, we’ve been good,” the French official says. “But we’ve basically been lucky.”

‘We don’t even know who we’re fighting’

Four years ago, the Algerian terrorists — then known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat — were running out of steam.

Born in an insurgency in 1992, the group took part in a near-civil war over the next decade that killed about 200,000 people. But its fighters had lost popular support after killing Muslim civilians. Many leaders had turned themselves in during government amnesties, and the group was weak from internal feuds.

So its new emir or leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, reached out to the superstar of international jihad: al-Qaeda.

His emissaries met with Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, or close associates of his in countries like Sudan, Lebanon or Yemen, the Western intelligence officials told the AP.

Al-Qaeda said it couldn’t give its brand away to an unreliable group: Even by jihad standards, Algerian militants had a reputation for excessive violence. But after a year of talks and tests, al-Zawahri issued a statement recognizing the “blessed union” on Sept. 11, 2006.

AQIM tried to focus more on Western targets in Algeria or tourists and Jews in Morocco. It also imported al-Qaeda techniques, such as fine-tuned, remote-controlled roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

In an apparent reference to al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, AQIM carried out its first suicide bombings on April 11, 2007. On Dec. 11 of that year, it killed 37 people — including 17 United Nations staffers — in an attack that devastated the U.N.’s Algerian headquarters.

The key technology input seems to be public relations. Several times a month, AQIM now uses global jihadist forums on the Internet to issue political statements and videos of bombings or ambushes.

The Algerian group appears to raise its own money rather than get any from al-Qaeda, according to Bruguiere and others.

“I don’t think there are many ties to headquarters other than ideological,” said Bruguiere, the European Union coordinator of the Terrorism Finance Tracking Program run jointly with the U.S. Treasury Department and CIA.

The group pays its dues back to “headquarters” by trying to expand a new front for jihad in North Africa that could also serve as a forward base to hit Europe. Terrorists from Algeria or of Algerian descent have already been implicated in several devastating attacks, including the 2004 Madrid train bombings and a series of blasts in the Paris metro in the 1990s.

The Western and North African intelligence officials said expansion is underway, to a limited extent, in Tunisia and Libya.

And Moroccan security said police dismantle at least a half-dozen suspected terrorist cells on average each year. The Interior Ministry recently ordered 267 local bank branches to close because they were too vulnerable to holdups that could fund militants.

The Pentagon’s new Africa Command is also striving to prevent the Algerian group’s expansion south into the desert. U.S. troops or Special Forces help the weak military in Saharan states increase patrolling and cross-border cooperation.

The need is pressing. The British and Swiss hostages were among four European tourists and two senior U.N. envoys kidnapped this winter near the Mali and Niger borders. The Swiss hostage is still being held, but the others have since been released. Likely kidnapped by local gunmen, they were transferred to AQIM, which asked for a huge ransom and the release of a radical Islamist preacher held in Britain.

But the bulk of the militants’ activities remain in densely populated northern Algeria, where nearly every day they traffic goods, plunder drivers at fake road blocks, kidnap, and extort money from small businessmen in exchange for safety.

“They’re not al-Qaeda, they’re just a mafia,” said Majid Benhamiche, who regularly dons his military uniform to join the army in raids against terrorist camps across the Kabylie mountains.

Benhamiche never drives without a Kalashnikov, and carries a pistol at all times. He is part of a village militia armed by the Algerian Defense Ministry. His isolated family house has been turned into a fortress-like compound with high walls and at least three armed family members on guard.

“It’s a war out there, and we don’t even know who we’re fighting,” he said. “But we’re not frightened. We’re well-armed.”

In this deeply macho society, Benhamiche has even taught his wife to use a Kalashnikov in case militants mount the raid they have been expecting every night for more than a decade. “She’s a pretty good shot,” he said.

‘They’re afraid of no one’

Algerian authorities describe the militants as on the run. In a rare interview with the AP during the presidential election in April, Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said “the armed elements are currently being cornered.”

Authorities have indeed dismantled several large cells this year. Important local “emirs,” or militant leaders, have turned themselves in, and several former high-profile leaders — known as “repentants” in Algeria — are calling on militants to stop fighting. Algerian authorities believe there are 500-800 active fighters left, a mere fraction of what there used to be.

These die-hards “are hard to catch because they’re taking refuge in remote mountains and forests,” Zerhouni told the AP.

Still, violence is persistent. Data obtained by the AP from Western diplomats in Algeria shows 85 significant bombings in 2008. Some 639 people died that year because of terrorism-related violence: 409 suspected militants, 158 security force members and 72 civilians.

This year, there were 64 bombings from January to April alone, with deaths of 19 civilians and 61 security force members. The data also shows 167 suspected militants killed amid police sweeps, army raids and aerial bombardments.

Construction entrepreneur Mohammed remembers his terror in February, when he and his son returned late from a construction site, unarmed. They saw five gunmen blocking the road and waiting for them, said Mohammed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retaliation.

“They told me, ‘You know who we are,”‘ the businessman recalls, still visibly shaken. “I answered, ‘Yes, you are the mujahedeen.”‘ Mohammed describes the men as young, clean-shaven and wearing nice sport shoes. “They could have been anybody.”

The gunmen brought Mohammed and his son to the edge of the forest near their local base. Then they released him so he could collect a ransom for his child.

The kidnapping occurred within three miles of a police and army barracks. The AQIM fighters told Mohammed not to contact police, but he said he did anyway. They offered no assistance. An emergency law passed in the 1990s forbids discussing security matters, and officials declined to comment on any aspect of this article.

The militants asked Mohammed for $55 million. The father negotiated it down to 2 million dinars, about euro20,000, or $28,000. Though considerable, Mohammed said this is only about half the going rate for ransoms among the 39 people he knows or has heard of as being recently kidnapped in his region.

Mohammed retrieved his son safely and thought the terrorists would kill him after taking the money.

“But they didn’t even behead me. What kind of al-Qaeda is this?” he asked, speaking with a blank voice and a shadow of fear in his eyes, convinced AQIM will come back to get him sooner or later.

Mohammed said the kidnappers left him with a warning for police: They planned to attack its headquarters in the nearby town of Les Ouacifs. Some 30 militants did indeed attack on March 26, spraying the station with bullets for a half-hour and wounding four officers.

“They’re afraid of no one,” Mohammed said.

Algeria has ramped up its security. These days, the capital is surrounded by rings of police and army checkpoints. With 100,000 military police, 80,000 government-funded militia members and 150,000 police, the Defense and Interior ministries are by far the biggest employers in this nation of 35 million people — except possibly for the regular army, whose numbers are kept secret.

Together, the two ministries spent 656 billion dinars ($9.1 billion), according to Algeria’s 2008 budget. That was more than a quarter of the state’s functioning budget, more than the education, justice and industry ministries combined.

For now, Algeria can pay for this vast security apparatus because it is one of the world’s largest oil and natural gas exporters. But in the global economic downturn, the burden is getting heavier.

In the meantime, poverty is rampant, unemployment is widespread, development falls far short and 70% of the population is under 30. The resulting tinderbox continues to stoke militancy that spreads far beyond Algeria’s borders, especially with the help of al-Qaeda.

Security is indeed killing or arresting militants in droves, said a Western intelligence official. “But the problem is, the groups can recruit just as fast within the desperate and angry youth.”

Medical bills underlie 60 percent of U.S. bankrupts: study

Medical bills underlie 60 percent of U.S. bankrupts: study

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

Washington (Reuters) – Medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday in a report they said demonstrates that healthcare reform is on the wrong track.

More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.

“Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy,” Harvard’s Dr. David Himmelstein, an advocate for a single-payer health insurance program for the United States, said in a statement.

“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection,” he added.

The United States is embarking on an overhaul of its healthcare system, now a patchwork of public programs such as Medicare for the elderly and disabled and employer-sponsored health insurance that leaves 15 percent of the population with no coverage.

The researchers and some consumer advocates said the study showed the proposals under the most serious consideration are unlikely to help many Americans. They are pressing for a so-called single payer plan, in which one agency, usually the government, coordinates health coverage.

“Expanding private insurance and calling it health reform will fail to prevent financial catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of Americans every year,” Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen said in a statement.

About 170 million people get health insurance through an employer but President Barack Obama says soaring healthcare costs hurt the economy and force businesses to drop medical insurance for their workers.


“Nationally, a quarter of firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; another quarter do so within a year,” the report reads.

Obama told Congress on Wednesday he was open to making mandatory health insurance part of the overhaul.

Neither Congress nor Obama are considering the kind of single-payer plan advocated by Public Citizen, Himmelstein and his colleague Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.

“We need to rethink health reform,” Woolhandler said. “Covering the uninsured isn’t enough.

“Only single-payer national health insurance can make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable by saving the hundreds of billions we now waste on insurance overhead and bureaucracy.”

The researchers studied 2,134 random families who filed for bankruptcy between January and April in 2007, before the current recession began.

They used public bankruptcy court records and surveyed 1,032 people by telephone.

“Using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92 percent of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5,000, or 10 percent of pretax family income,” the researchers wrote.

“Most medical debtors were well-educated, owned homes and had middle-class occupations.”

The researchers, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the share of bankruptcies that could be blamed on medical problems rose by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007.

Patients with multiple sclerosis paid a mean of $34,167 out of pocket in 2007, diabetics paid $26,971, and those with injuries paid $25,096, the researchers found.

(Editing by Bill Trott and Jackie Frank)

The Big Collapse Could Be Very Near

[Hold onto your hats, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.]

The Big Collapse Could Be Very Near

by Robert Wenzel

The Federal Reserve appears to be increasingly nervous about the long term bond market. This is serious. How panicked are they? After leaking a story on Friday, they are back at it on Sunday.

The Federal Reserve leaked to CNBC’s Steve Liesman on Friday that they weren’t targeting long rates. Why such a leak? Probably because the Fed did not want to appear impotent in controlling the long rate. So they put out the word through Liesman that they weren’t targetting the long rate. Can you imagine what would happen to the markets if it sensed long rates were beyond the control of the Fed?

The Fed can of course print money to buy up every Treasury bond in existence, but the inflationary ramifications would be Zimbabwe like, and crush the dollar on international currency markets. Are we near the phase where all hell breaks loose? I have never even answered, maybe, to this question before. It’s always been, “no.” Now it’s maybe.

What really has me spooked is another article out this afternoon (on a Sunday) that Drudge has even picked up. It’s a Reuters story by Alister Bull. The headline: Federal Reserve puzzled by yield curve steepening.

Translation, the Fed doesn’t know what is going on, but they are really scared.

Here’s more from Bull:

The Federal Reserve is studying significant moves in the U.S. government bond market last week that could have big implications for the central bank’s strategy to combat the country’s recession.

But the Fed is not really sure what is driving the sharp rise in long-dated bond yields, and especially a widening gap between short and long term yields.

Do rising U.S. Treasury yields and a steepening yield curve suggest an economic recovery is more certain, meaning less need for safe haven government bonds and a healthy demand for credit? If so, there might be less need for the Fed to expand the money supply by buying more U.S. Treasuries.

Or does the steepening yield curve mean investors are worried about the deterioration in the U.S. fiscal outlook, or the potential for a collapse in the U.S. dollar as the Fed floods the world with newly minted currency as part of its quantitative easing program. This might be an argument to augment to step up asset purchases.

Another possibility is that China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt, has decided to refocus its portfolio by leaning more heavily on shorter-term maturities…

An obvious culprit for the move in bond yields is the country’s record fiscal deficit, which will generate a massive amount of new government issuance.

The U.S. Treasury must sell a record net $2 trillion in new debt in 2009 to fund a $1.8 trillion projected fiscal deficit, resulting from falling tax revenues, an economic stimulus package and sundry bank bailouts.

It’s the Chinese, and any other Treasury bond buyer who follows the markets, that have pulled away, to varying degrees from buying Treasury long securities. No one wants to be the last one holding bonds, where the new debt about to be issued is in the trillions.

Bull continues with the part of the message the Fed really wanted to get out: With officials still grappling to divine the factors steepening the yield curve, a speedy decision on whether to ramp up the Treasury debt purchase program or the related plan to snap up mortgage-related debt seems unlikely.

“I’m in wait-and-see mode,” said one Fed official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We laid out the asset purchase plan and we’re following it. That is going to have some affect on various interest rates, but together with a hundred other things. So I don’t think we should be chasing a long-term interest rate,” the official said. It’s the same message as Friday. The Fed does not want to spook the world into thinking that it can’t push long term rates down, so it says it is not trying. But if rates continue to climb, a panic out of Treasury securities is a very likely scenario. And Bernanke has only one play to force long rates back down, buy every long bond in sight, which of course is highly inflationary and puts upward pressure on rates. How’s that for a dilemma?

The end of the current financial system, as we know it, may be imminent. If you would have asked me even two weeks ago if collapse was imminent, I would have said it was highly unlikely, now I am saying it is possible. Bernanke may be able to patch things up short-term, if he is lucky, but in the long term the U.S. financial structure is in serious trouble. There is just too much Treasury debt that needs to be raised. An international panic out of Treasury securities, even a slow controlled panic, means the Fed will be the major buyer. This will ultimately mean record inflation.

And keep this in mind, we have never seen a collapse of a currency like the dollar. Even the hyperinflation during Germany’s Wiemar Period can not serve as an example. Since the dollar is the reserve currency of most of the world, a panic out of the dollar means more dollars will return to the U.S. shores than any country has ever experienced.

Other countries have had collapsed currencies, but never in the history of world of finance has so much currency been held outside a country of issue that could come flying back, almost on a moments notice. If the panic out of the dollar starts, even if Bernanke stops printing money (unlikely), all the dollars flying back into the U.S. could cause a huge price inflation all on its own.