The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winnipeg Health inspectors are breathing down the necks of Winnipeg Free Press employees

Shoe...meet foot.

Now, meet other foot.

Reporters and columnists at the Winnipeg Free Press were all high and mighty during the Taman Inquiry. They looked down their noses and lectured Winnipeg and East St. Paul police officers about cover-ups, honesty, justice, yadda yadda yadda.

Now listen to the deafening silence as they are caught up in a cover-up of their own.

And don't confuse it with the deafening silence from the other reporters in town, who were part of the mob attacking the honesty of the police but who have turned a blind eye to the cover-up in their own ranks.

It was revealed yesterday on a local radio talkshow that city health authorities have started trying to trace the source of three-quarters of a ton of minced pork that the Free Press employees union bragged about getting during the recent strike at the newspaper. Oh, would that be the same union that represents most of the other reporters in town as well?

Health officials fear the meat might be contaminated and a hazard to anyone eating it.

The pork, as it turned out, might have been stolen from a local food bank. It was improperly stored, we know, thanks to the account of one Free Press striker who said an unspecified portion of the 1500 pounds of meat had to be thrown out because it had spoiled. But that wasn't stopping the FP employees from refreezing the meat and, said the reporter, planning to re-gift it in Christmas hampers to the poor.

The health department will start their investigation by asking for the footage from surveillance cameras around the Winnipeg Free Press. They will try to identify the driver who handed out boxes of pre-packaged pork from the back of his truck.

Hmmm. You don't think the FP will say they have no surveillance footage? ... that, golly gosh, it wasn't working the night of the pork delivery. ... that the tape was erased, because, heck, who thought it would be needed for anything?

No matter.

There are dozens of eye witnesses who can help the health authorities identify the driver and his truck. The strike website wrote how the pickets eagerly unloaded the boxes of pork and took it to strike headquarters.

Surely, some of these highly trained observers noted details of the mystery man making his generous "donation" to the picket line. Or will they say they "don't recall" him at all.

The health officials can start by asking reporter Bruce Owen, who saw he saw with his own eyes the spoiled pork being discarded. His trained eye undoubtedly picked up small points that might be missed by others, like what was written on the side of the mystery truck? Or the driver's name.

Maybe columnist Dan Lett, who had plenty to say about the duty of Winnipeg police to tell the truth, can ask around and provide health inspectors with valuable information about the source of the pork.

Maybe FP union rep Connie Budney can offer some suggestions on how the union got the free food.

Columnist Lindor Reynolds was on the picket line, and her daughter works for Winnipeg Harvest which distributed the packaged pork to one of many Winnipeg food banks which then either discarded it or had it stolen from them -- by someone who thought the Winnipeg Free Press employees needed it more than the poor and hungry.

Maybe Reynolds can use her investigative skills to ferret out the source of the pork.

And what about columnist Gordon Sinclair. He cares about the poor. He really, really caaaaaares. Just not enough to ask how food intended for the poor wound up in the freezers of his co-workers. But there's always hope he might be stricken with conscience at Christmas.

Because this isn't a joking matter. The city health department is worried the spoiled pork is a health hazard.

And they don't want to see the poor made victims of the hubris of the Winnipeg Free Press employees union.

The Winnipeg Free Press made mileage out of mocking the Winnipeg police and the "thin blue line" that prevents honest investigations of police by police.

What colour is the line that prevents honest investigations of journalists by other journalists?

The answer is in an old riddle...

What's black and white and read all over?

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bruce MacFarlane, Manitoba Agent 204, embroiled in international intrigue

How does a hard-working lawyer from the Manitoba Prairies wind up neck-deep in a world of French secret agents, Al Qaeda terrorists, and Uzbek spies?

Oh, and mix in wingnut conspiracy theorists and packs of journalists primed to make him Public Enemy No. 1.

How? We wish we knew. The only thing certain is that its one of the most underreported stories in the country.

Make that two countries--Canada and France.

Seven weeks ago Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair mentioned that Bruce MacFarlane, Manitoba's former deputy attorney general, was jetting off to France to be a special prosecutor "in a case against a journalist from Le Monde who allegedly broke a publication ban."

Demonstrating that journalism at the Free Press is another word for gossip, that's all he wrote.

Nobody called a news conference, so naturally, no other professed reporter in Winnipeg could figure out where to go with the tip, leaving us to fill in the void.

We know the case involves Guillaume Dasquié, an investigative journalist who got his hands on a 328 page secret report from the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Dasquie is alternately described as an intelligence analyst and the founder and editor of the political news website Geopolitique.com.

On April 16, 2007, the prominent French newspaper Le Monde published a story by Dasquie based on the secret intelligence report. Headlined "11 septembre 2001: les Français en savaient long (back-of-the-envelope translation: Sept. 11, 2001, The French knew a lot ) the story was a news bombshell.

Dasquie had in his hands everything the DGSE knew about Al Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001 including maps, analyses, graphics, and satellite photos. He had the terrorists' plans and a full list of their leadership, their training camps, and their financiers.

911 Truthers were ecstatic. To this day they cite the story as proof the United States had been warned in advance of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The true truth is more prosaic.

French intelligence had been alerted by their sources that Al Qaeda had discussed hijacking planes in Germany flown by American airlines.

But it was the revelation of these sources that created the waves within the intelligence community.

For the first time it was revealed that the French had penetrated Al Qaeda with human spies.

They had Uzbeks posing as Muslim jihadists actually within the leadership of Al Qaeda. They had also "turned" Muslims from European cities who were sent to Afghanistan to become jihadists.

In December, 2007, Dasquie's home was raided by French intelligence authorities and he was held in custody while being questioned about who leaked the intelligence report to him. He wouldn't give up his source, so he was charged with possessing and divulging national defence secrets. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 Euros.

No sooner had Dasquie's detention been reported than journalism organizations around the world leapt to his defence. Joel Simon, Executive Director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said. "Dasquié should not be prosecuted for serving the public's right to know." Reporters Without Borders issued a press release throughout Europe stating "Reporters without Borders continues to regard the judicial procedures being taken against Dasquie as improper. He was just doing his job as a journalist and should not be held responsible for leaks from within the government."

The OSCE media watchdog has called for a protection of sources law in France in direct response to the prosecution of Dasquie. Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called upon the French government for legislation to ensure the protection of journalistic sources, something that's been promised in the past but never delivered. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organisation in the world with 55 participating States from Europe, Central Asia and North America.

Well guess who is going to be in the sights of all these journalism-rights groups?

Oui.

Monsieur Bruce MacFarlane, avocat Canadienne.

We're having a tough time deciphering the wacky judicial system in France so we can't say at what stage the case against Dasquie is at. We think its in a preliminary hearing.

Dasquie is no stranger to judicial proceedings as a result of his writing. He was co-author of a book in 2001 titled Bin Laden, la verite interdite (Forbidden Truth). The book argued that George Bush was a major supporter of the Taliban government of Afghanistan and blocked investigations of terrorists prior to the attacks of 2001 because oil interests wanted to broker a pipeline through Afghanistan.

The book resulted in at least one defamation lawsuit -- and this grovelling apology by Dasquie and co-author Jean-Charles Brisard.

2 November 2006
We, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié, are the authors of Forbidden Truth, a book circulated widely since it was first published in the autumn of 2001. I, Jean Charles-Brisard, am also the author of a Report entitled Terrorism Financing published in December 2002.

The Book and the Report contain very serious and highly defamatory allegations about Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz and Sheikh Abdulrahman Bin Mahfouz, alleging support for terrorism through their businesses, families and charities, and directly.

As a result of what we now know, we accept and acknowledge that all of those allegations about you and your families, businesses and charities are entirely and manifestly false.

The allegations were based on information which we have now been able to establish has been largely withdrawn or refuted in the intervening years since Forbidden Truth was first published, and to our knowledge has never been verified.

We did not anticipate at the time the Book and the Report were written that the information which we relied upon would later be withdrawn or refuted.

Notwithstanding research into terrorism financing, we have learnt nothing since the publication of the Book and the Report which suggests there is any evidence supporting the allegations. We therefore now unreservedly withdraw all of the allegations about you both in the Book and the Report and confirm that we will never repeat them.

We appreciate the very serious damage that has been caused to your reputations by these allegations. We also accept that the allegations caused you and your family very great distress. For all of this we are truly sorry.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Media swallows NDP's 3 course meal of imaginary news

Rumpelstiltskin.

Until Monday he was the only one we knew who could spin straw into gold.

But then along came the Manitoba NDP, and, poof, there was another contender in the room. Of course, they couldn't do it alone.

They had the full cooperation of the mainstream media which set a record of their own for being spoon-fed stories by the government.

The NDP issued three news releases Monday which became the source of stories in every newspaper, radio and television newscast.

If you simply read the headlines you would think that thanks to the NDP the province was going to see:

* 131 new nurses
* 343 new day-care spaces, and
* Canada's biggest wind farm

Not bad for a day's work.

Except when you factor in the facts, and then you see that:

* Zero new nurses have been hired
* Zero new day-care spaces have been created, and
* No new wind farm is being built

Other than that, it was good news all around.

So how did they manage to collect good press based on nothing?

* Let's start with the nurses.

November 24, 2008

OVERSEAS NURSE RECRUITMENT MISSION A SUCCESS: MINISTERS
Dozens of new nurses will begin working in rural Manitoba as early as this spring following a successful recruitment mission to the Philippines, Health Minister Theresa Oswald and Labour and Immigration Minister Nancy Allan announced today.

So who doesn't love success? The news was so good they needed two strong NDP women to announce it. But the alarm bells should have been ringing from the very start.

"The provincial recruitment team has made conditional offers of employment to 131 nurses from the Philippines."

So why are we expecting only "dozens" of new nurses?

Because none of the Filipino nurses have been hired.

They expressed an interest in getting jobs in Manitoba and Manitoba expressed an interest in hiring them.

All the rest is a carrot to dangle in front of rural hospitals where emergency wards are closed every summer.

And nobody seemed to notice that the NDP apparently concedes that only 20 or 30 percent of those who expressed interest (" dozens") will actually get jobs.

* What about the day-care spaces?

The numbers spun by two, count 'em, two strong male cabinet ministers plus grinning prop Erin Selby, were dazzling -- even though the newspapers couldn't decide what the news about day-care spaces actually was.

Was it ' how many'? Or 'where'?

"The provincial government will fund 2,350 child-care spaces this year, the first year of its five-year plan that targets funding for 6,500 spaces in Manitoba." Winnipeg Sun.

"The Manitoba government is promising to convert surplus space in 10 schools into child-care spots as early as the end of the fiscal year." Winnipeg Free Press

It appeared at first glance that the government intended to spend $1.5 million into 343 new day-care spaces over the next four months. But a second glance told you that the day-care spots depended on renovations to 10 schools across the province and the schools would set their own timetable for the renos.

The number of new spots guaranteed by the end of March 31, 2009?

Not one.

What is guaranteed -- is that the government will have a devil of a time hiring staff to look after the kids in the new day-care spaces.

It turns out the NDP is poaching its own day-care employees who are being lured away to higher paying jobs as school aides and nurses.

* As for the invisible wind farm, our first question was "what's wrong with this picture?"

The photo in the Winnnipeg Free Press of two reeves, the chairman of Manitoba Hydro Bob Brennan, Premier Gary Doer and Finance Minister Greg Selinger--grinning ear-to-ear like Cheshire Cats--could become the bedrock of a Tory ad campaign in the next election.

Let's start with the news release.

"November 24, 2008 CANADA'S LARGEST WIND FARM SLATED FOR DEVELOPMENT IN SOUTHERN MANITOBA - - -

Manitoba Hydro Board Accepts RFP Proposal For 300 MW Wind Farm at St. Joseph Manitoba's green economy received a major boost today with Manitoba Hydro Board's acceptance of an RFP proposal from St. Joseph Wind Farm Inc., owned by Babcock & Brown Canada ULC, to develop a 300 megawatt wind farm, the largest in Canada, at St. Joseph near Letellier in southern Manitoba, Premier Gary Doer and Manitoba Hydro president and CEO Bob Brennan announced today."


That's it.

The board of Manitoba Hydro accepted a company's wind farm proposal.
Uhh. Right.

That's hardly earth-shattering news since Hydro announced EIGHT MONTHS AGO that the company made the best bid for the project.

In fact, it's no news at all since no deal has been signed.

And no deal has been signed because they haven't agreed on how much Hydro is going to pay for the power from the wind farm.

And the reason they haven't agreed on the price is because the company has to take all the risk in building 130 turbines and producing power before it gets paid anything.

And in the current world economy---NOBODY is TAKING risks and NOBODY wants to finance risks.

So Manitoba Hydro has to make the company an offer it can't refuse, by, say, ELIMINATING THE RISK with a contract so sweet they can't lose.

Oh, and after signing an agreement, and jumping through the regulatory hoops, the company can take its sweet time to build the wind farm ("The exact schedule will depend upon the availability of materials and equipment for the wind turbines and related transmission facilities.") although the government would sure like it if the power was available, say by 2011 or 2012 or around the time Manitoba Hydro has said it needs the Wuskwatim power project completed "to meet domestic needs and firm export contracts."

How is that Wuskwatim project coming along, anyway? Oh, yeah, they still have no general contractor.

Expect a glowing news release on that any day now.

Lost in the blizzard of faux news from the government was this snippet of real news.

Under the cap-and-trade emissions system Manitoba is committed to, companies producing at least 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year in 2012 will either have to reduce immediately or buy "credits."

Who's already right on the borderline?

Why, the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre with 23,600 tonnes.

Yes, it appears that three years from now, instead of spending on health care and funding more nurses, more doctors, and more medicine, the NDP will be diverting money to buying CO2 credits to meet it ideological goals.

Those news releases should be real beauts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The humanitarian mask slips off the face of the Winnipeg Free Press

Stomach-turning.

That's the adjective that best describes Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press.
It started the moment we physically picked up the newspaper and something dropped out.

It was an appeal from Siloam Mission for donations.

"A plate of Christmas cheer for someone who is hungry in Winnipeg's inner city...$2.58"
"We really need your help."

This out of a newspaper
whose employees were just bragging about how they snagged 1500 pounds of prime minced pork out of the mouths of the poor and hungry? That government subsidized pork was always intended for food banks just like Siloam Mission.

Instead, striking Free Press employees greedily snatched it up the moment that someone
they're still refusing to identify drove a pickup truck full of it to the picket line.

But it only got worse.

The next thing to see was a story about the Free Press annual Pennies From Heaven drive.


They stole thousands of dollars of food from the poor, and now they want to raise pennies for the same poor?

The story said the Free Press campaign is :

"to raise funds for two worthy causes: the Christmas Cheer Board and Winnipeg Harvest. "

Would that be the same Winnipeg Harvest whose pork was delivered by a mysterious source to the Free Press employees?

"The beauty of this campaign is everyone can participate. A child who finds a penny on the floor can contribute."

The story failed to mention how Free Press employees, celebrating their raises ranging up to $2000 a year, kickstarted the campaign with their own donations... Oh, maybe that's because they said they plan to donate the stolen pork in Christmas hampers.

Pardon us as we puke.

Further in the newspaper we found a story headlined
"Humane society suffers financial hit." It told how the Winnipeg Humane Society has had to cut hours of operation and lay off staff because its annual campaign to raise operational funding has collected only $50,000, half of what it normally raises by this time of year.

A few pages further we hit a large ad from The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It carried a picture of Arni Thorsteinson and Susan Glass wagging their fingers at "citizens of Manitoba and Saskatchewan" and challenging them to donate to the museum.

They promised to donate another $800,000 themselves as a "matching gift--dollar for dollar--for donations or pledges received between now and December 31, 2008."

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the Black Hole of Manitoba, sucking up millions of dollars (a quarter of a billion dollars-plus so far) in donations while smaller charities like the Humane Society are paying the price. The multi-millionaires think its fun to wag their fingers and play at fundraising for their pet projects as the little people worry about their lost pets.

Maybe one of those millionaires can cut out a fundraising gala or two and toss the Humane Society a bone and bail them out of their hole.

But then, the money-sucking museum is a pet project of
Winnipeg Free Press owner Bob Silver who, with his partner Ron Stern, donated $500,000.

You want more?

Free Press columnist
Gordon Sinclair confessed Saturday that there was a small problem with his story about the poor single mother who was desperate because she expected to be evicted the very next day for non-payment of two months rent. The problem was that it wasn't true.

The woman wasn't facing imminent eviction, as he wrote, which means the nearly $6000 in donations she received was nothing more than free money.

Sinclair found that out when he finally spoke to her landlord, something he neglected to do before writing his first story about the woman---or his second.

Damn.
There's nothing that spoils a good sob-story faster than the facts.

The pathetic attempts by the Winnipeg Free Press to paint themselves as great humanitarians continue to ring hollow, and will until the day the employees come clean about the Picket Pork scandal.

Who delivered the food?
Where did it come from?
And, more importantly, why did the people who had good-paying jobs think it was a good thing to take the food that was clearly intended for the unfortunate?

P.S. Just when you think it can't get worse…

A new, and more stomach turning version of Picket Pork has turned up.

Blogger Jim Cotton writes about meeting Free Press reporter Mary Agnes Welch on Saturday and
asking her about "Porkgate."

"She looked me in the eye and said no one wanted to touch it and the guy was forcing the Pork on them."

Yes, people, the good-folk at the Free Press were forced---forced, damn it---to take the pork intended for the poor. There, now you have it. The true story. Mark 6.

Cotton, coincidentally, was the citizen journalist who
poked the biggest hole in Sinclair's rent-girl story. He spotted the happy woman, newly flush with thousands of dollars in donations, celebrating with drinks at a downtown bar and a shopping spree the next day at high-end Polo Park stores.

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Winnipeg Free Press and CBC finally hint at spiralling cost of Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Did they think we wouldn't notice something this momentous?

This week two major Winnipeg news outlets oh-so-casually made reference to "the $300 million" Museum for Human Rights planned for the city.

Except that the museum's official website still says (as of midnight Nov. 13, 2008) that the project will cost $265 million.

What do they know that they're not telling?

CBC.ca wrote:
Human rights museum questioned on green building policy
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
12:11 PM CT
The Manitoba government appears to be ignoring its own green building policy as it funds the $300-million Canadian Museum for Human Rights
.

And the Winnipeg Free Press wrote:

Rights Museum will be 'green;: spokeswoman
Thursday, November 13, 2008

"...How environmentally friendly the new $300 million museum will be took centre stage yesterday after a media outlet reported the Doer government appeared to be ingnoring its own green building policy in the museum's design and construction."

So the newsrooms have finally acknowledged that the CMHR is not immune from the construction cost inflation that's hammered every project in the province for the past few years.

The next step is to concede that the cost overrun is already beyond the capacity of the museum's board of directors to overcome.

When the federal government became a partner in the construction of the museum in April, 2007, it capped the cost of the project at $265 million. The museum's board committed to Parliament that they would be responsible for any cost overruns.

(The Black Rod blew the whistle on the museum scam way back last spring when the CBC and Free Press were still promoting the party line. See details http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2008/03/march-madness.html
and http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2008/05/canadian-museum-of-human-rights-follow.html)

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in their own newscasts, the Free Press and CBC have for years peddled the illusion that the human rights museum was untouched by the skyrocketing costs of steel, concrete and labour.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane.

Water plant may bust budget
Rising costs may require more than $214M: report

By Mary Agnes Welch
The Winnipeg Free Press
Saturday, October 9, 2004
- CONSTRUCTION of the city's new water treatment plant is on a very tight schedule and could blow its budget, a city report warned yesterday.

"We feel we have to warn councillors," said Tom Pearson, manager of water services. "It's a little too early in the process to say whether we will come in on budget or we won't."

snip

To reduce the risk of cost overruns, the city has hired a construction manager, who will tender smaller, more manageable parts of the work and oversee the process.

(Pearson) is still confident the army of engineers, consultants and construction experts will build the water treatment plant on time and on budget.


"We didn't hire rookies," he said.

The water treatment plant is still unfinished and is currently costed at $300 million, a 40 percent increase over budget despite every cost-control measure known to mankind and a few invented purely for the project.

***
February 16, 2006
According to a recent analysis conducted by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC (ICBA), construction costs rose 45 per cent in the province in the last five years, and will continue to jump 10 per cent annually over the next five years.


***
New CAO suspends new City of Winnipeg construction
Last Updated: Friday, September 28, 2007 9:23 AM CT
CBC News

New construction projects in Winnipeg are being put on hold for at least the next week while the city reviews its capital budget.

The city's recently appointed acting chief administrative officer, Alex Robinson, has asked for a review of all new city projects, saying project costs are spiralling out of control.

Coun. Harry Lazarenko, a longtime member of the city's infrastructure and public works committee, told CBC News it was time to put on the brakes.

"We were projecting to do a lot of the capital work that is required, especially infrastructure, but it was unforeseen, the high cost," he said, noting cost overruns have been between 20 and 30 per cent.

"It would be a hard hit to the taxpayers to go ahead and just to go blindly into it. We have to revisit and to take a look and hold back."


***
Portage Place seeking developer
Apartments would fill need in core area
Winnipeg Free Press
Monday January 21 2008
By Murray McNeill


... All three developers said one of the biggest obstacles to overcome will be soaring construction costs, which Thorsteinson said have increased by 40 per cent in the last two years.

***
Steelmakers forge profit from soaring prices
CBC News July 30, 2008

ArcelorMittal SA, the world's largest steel producer, posted quarterly profits that blasted past analysts' forecasts and continued a trend of stellar news in the white-hot steel sector.

For example, the price per metric tonne of cold rolled steel coil, $985 US, soared 41 per cent between April 2007 and this April. The same is true for hot rolled steel plate, which recently hit $1,065 per tonne, 35 per cent more expensive than last April.

You can't say there weren't enough red flags.

As for the board's ability to cover the cost overruns---don't make us laugh.

The private sector still hasn't raised the $105 million they're committed to before construction will begin.

* Between December '06 and December '07, private sector contributions to the museum were roughly $13 million.

* Between December '07 and now, private sector contributions have been roughly $14.6 million.

* They're still $7.4 million shy of their allotted share of the costs.

* That's why the hinted-at construction date has slipped from February to "early spring."

But at that rate, it will take another two years to cover the extra $35 million the news agencies are reporting.


And if history is any guide, the final cost of the project will actually be at least 40 percent over budget.

Roughly $80 million.

Where's that figure come from?

Well, a well-placed source with intimate knowledge of the museum project has informed an internet community that the actual cost of contruction has climbed from its original $90 million estimate to $200 million today.

And that's without a single spoonful of earth moved.

*****

Tidbits...

Plans to "green" the CMHR include installing photovoltaic cells in the glass around the building. That's technology to create electricity from the sun. It's also the most ineffective and most costly "green" technology out there.

And, if the true cost of the CMHR project is now reaching $380 million, that means the museum will be worth as much or more than the whole Canwest Global empire.

August 1, 2008,

Globe and Mail
Asper considers taking CanWest private
GRANT ROBERTSON, BOYD ERMAN AND DEREK DeCLOET

CanWest shares have plunged 83 per cent in the past 18 months, leaving the company with a market value of just $366-million...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

War in Afghanistan, Fall update

It's been quite some time since The Black Rod's last look at the War in Afghanistan 2008.

First interruption was the Derek Zenk show trial, where we were the only ones to stand up to the lynch mob and expose how the Commission was supressing facts and manipulating public opinion.

Then there came the federal election, where we created a national stir by exposing the candidacy of a 9-11 Truther for the Liberal Party of Canada.

And then the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press went on strike and we revealed how they helped themselves to more than half a ton of government-subsidized food that was intended to be given to the poor and which may have been stolen from a local food bank.

We've certainly been busy this fall. But now its time to return to our weekly update of the mission in Afghanistan.
******************

Playing catch-up, we first noticed a series of stories about an expected winter offensive by both sides. As expected, the mainstream media couldn't be more wrong in its assessment.

U.S. Expects Afghan Violence to Worsen
-- Wall Street Journal Tuesday, September 23, 2008
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they expect the Taliban to launch a winter offensive, a move that could bring bloodshed during a time of year that historically has been relatively peaceful.

Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, violence in Afghanistan has usually tracked the country's seasons, decreasing during the harsh winter months and then resuming in the spring. This year is shaping up differently, with the U.S. picking up indications that militants who normally spend the winter months training in Pakistan are instead preparing to remain in Afghanistan, staying in position to launch attacks there.

"I do think there will be an increase in violence by the enemy in order to maintain a general sense of insecurity," said Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, deputy commander of the U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. "The winter fighting season this year will be more violent than in previous years."


And there's this story making the rounds on the anti-Bush blogs like Huffington Post from something called the Washington Independent, which describes itself as a fleet-footed webpaper of politics and policy.

"Taliban Ready to Make It a ‘Hot Winter’"
Washington Independent. September 24, 2008

"U.S. military officials are warning that intelligence now indicates that the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan plans to launch major operations this winter. While those officials publicly claim they’re prepared for a winter offensive, it would place U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in unfamiliar territory, with little precedent to guide them. It would likely entail a major escalation of insurgent aggression to cap off what has already been the bloodiest year for the U.S. military in the seven-year war.

“This kind of thing raises alarm bells,” said Vikram Singh, who worked on counterinsurgency and South Asia issues at the Pentagon from 2003 to 2007."


Somehow these alarmist stories fail to notice the obvious---the Taliban are staying in Afghanistan over the winter because they have nowhere to go. Their sanctuaries in Pakistan are under assault by the Pakistani military and U.S. drones are killing Taliban leaders wherever they find them in the lawless border regions where Taliban fighters went in the winter to rest and regroup.

There are also these stories:

Taliban plan to fight through winter to throttle Kabul
The Guardian, U.K. October 29
Militia fighters are operating just an hour's drive from the capital's suburbs, confident of undermining Western support for the war


The Taliban are planning a major winter offensive combining their diverse factions in a push on the Afghan capital, Kabul, intelligence analysts and sources among the militia have revealed.

The thrust will involve a concerted attempt to take control of surrounding provinces, a bid to cut the key commercial highway linking the capital with the eastern city of Jalalabad, and operations designed to tie down British and other Nato troops in the south.

And...

Taliban planning major winter offensive: report
Updated Sun. Oct. 29 2006
CTV.ca News Staff

NATO says 70 suspected militants were killed in a battle this weekend, while a British newspaper reports the Taliban is gearing up for a major winter offensive and a push on the capital.


But then those stories were written in 2006!!! How did that Taliban winter offensive work out, anyway?

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan recognize the disarray the Taliban is in and they are planning their own winter operations to take advantage.


In September, during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said he was taking a two-track approach--fight hard and build well.

First, he said, he intended a “very aggressive winter campaign” whose goal was the elimination "of the support areas within our sector to diminish the enemy’s ability to operate next year.”

At the same time Schloesser's troops would undertake what he called a “development surge” - which will be essentially a jobs program for men of fighting age, like “clearing ice and snow from roads; doing construction training workshops; road maintenance; distribution of essentials to villages that are basically isolated, such as clothes and food...”

In October, the U.S. urged Pakistan to join them in a major winter offensive by blocking roads and pathways into Afghanistan, as well as undertaking joint patrols of the border with U.S., Nato and Afghan troops.

And this month Canada's top commander in Kandahar province added his voice.

NATO to attack Taliban during winter 'rest'
JESSICA LEEDER, Toronto Globe and Mail, November 1, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Canada's top military official in southern Afghanistan said NATO forces here will rely on "competitive advantage" over the Taliban this winter to push insurgents out of pockets they use as safe havens and reduce perceptions of insecurity in the volatile province.

"We have a distinct advantage in that we can continue to conduct operations throughout the cold winter months while the insurgents typically have to limit the scope of their activities," said Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, who commands NATO troops on the ground in Kandahar province.

"We are going to take the fight to the insurgents. My intent is ... to deny the insurgents the ability to rest, resupply and reconstitute their leadership in Kandahar province over the winter months. Doing this will force them farther from population centres, limit their ability to conduct large-scale operations and make it increasingly difficult for them to terrorize the civilian population," he said.

One of the biggest challenges we now have in following the war in Afghanistan is understanding what's happening in neighbouring Pakistan where a major push is underway to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda forces from the tribal regions.

We have to learn a whole new geography and geo-political balance.

Taliban forces are slowly being defeated in Bajaur Agency, a tribal area adjoining Kunar province. The army says it has killed more than 1,500 militants in the offensive that began in August, including Uzbek, Chechen and Turkmen foreign fighters. Another 950 "militants," including more than 300 are Uzbek, Tajik, Nuristani, Afghani and Hazara, have been captured

Their captured bases have given up valuable intelligence material.

Taliban documents reveal scale of operations in Pakistan
By Ben Farmer in Kabul The Telegraph, U.K.
Last Updated: 6:39PM GMT 11 Nov 2008

The documents, discovered in a tunnel complex in the Bajaur tribal agency, contain precise, coded maps of the nearby territory pointing out weapons caches and rendezvous points in an area where hundreds have died in fighting in the past three months.

Pakistani commanders said the tunnels in a Taliban stronghold also contained guerrilla training manuals, jihadist propaganda, bomb-making instructions and students' notes, suggesting the insurgents used the battleground near the Afghan border to train fighters.

"They were training people here," said Colonel Javed Baluch in an interview with the Times. "This was one of their centres. There were students here taking notes on bomb-making and guerrilla warfare. They were well trained and well organised."

Britain and America have claimed terrorists including al-Qaeda operatives have found a safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), where they plan and train for attacks around the world.

Tribal leaders in the region have fallen in line with the central government, pledging to eliminate Taliban insurgents from their region providing the Pakistani military doesn't bring its forces in. A tribal council was held Monday to solidify those promises. The government is applying pressure on footdraggers. But it's more bad news for the Taliban, and more good news for Canadian and other Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Take on Taliban or face action, Mamonds told
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
10 militants surrender, six killed in Bajaur
By Mushtaq Yusufzai, News International, Pakistan


PESHAWAR: The government in the restive Bajaur Agency threatened Mamond tribesmen on Monday with a wider military action if they failed to take practical steps against the militants in their area. Warplanes continued bombing the suspected hideouts, killing six militants.

Also, the Utmankhel tribal Jirga handed 10 suspected militants to the authorities in Khar. Tribal sources said unwillingness of the Mamond tribesmen to act against the militants and their alleged delaying tactics had annoyed the local administration that asked them to take cue from their Salarzai fellow tribal people and act against the militants, otherwise the military would launch operation.

The political administration on Monday morning called a Jirga of Mamond tribal elders at Khar, headquarters of the tribal region, and reminded them of their pledge to raise a Lashkar and burn militant hideouts. Senior officials of the political administration told them in plain words that time was fast running out and their areas could come under attacks by planes if they failed in taking action against the militants.

The tribal sources said the Mamond tribal Jirga assured the government of their full support in the current armed drive against the militants but demanded a halt to air strikes and shelling on Mamond so that they could approach the tribesmen and get them united against the militants.

The authorities reportedly came down hard on elders and accused them of buying time in raising Lashkars. The government officials said they had given enough time to the Mamond tribesmen for holding meetings and raising Lashkars, but they could not show any tangible results. Even airstrikes were halted for sometime to enable the people to raise Lashkars and take on militants.


More examples of ordinary people standing up to the Taliban are being reported each day. Take this one in the New York Times:

As Taliban Overwhelm Police, Pakistanis Hit Back
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH,
New York Times, November 1, 2008
SHALBANDI, Pakistan - On a rainy Friday evening in early August, six Taliban fighters attacked a police post in a village in Buner, a quiet farming valley just outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal region. The militants tied up eight policemen and lay them on the floor, and according to local accounts, the youngest member of the gang, a 14-year-old, shot the captives on orders from his boss.

The fighters stole uniforms and weapons and fled into the mountains. Almost instantly, the people of Buner, armed with rifles, daggers and pistols, formed a posse, and after five days they cornered and killed their quarry. A video made on a cellphone showed the six militants lying in the dirt, blood oozing from their wounds.

snip

Soon after the citizen mob killed the six Taliban, he said, undercover work led police officers to a house where they found a suicide vest packed with 20 pounds of explosives and 15 pounds of ball bearings. That discovery led to a potentially more lethal find: a full kit of ingredients for major explosions.

In a house near his police headquarters, investigators found more than 500 pounds of explosives, a cache of 30 detonators, 10 remote-control devices, dozens of battery cells, a police uniform and a motorcycle, Mr. Shah said.

Worryingly, he said, the explosives had been methodically delivered into Buner over time in small parcels by motorbike. One of the men arrested in the case had been friendly with the police, a shopkeeper who prayed at the same mosque as the police.

The New York Times tried mightily to spin the story as negative as possible.

"The stand at Buner has entered the lore of Pakistan’s war against the militants as a dramatic example of ordinary citizens’ determination to draw a line against the militants. But it says as much about the shortcomings of Pakistan’s increasingly overwhelmed police forces and the pell-mell nature of the efforts to stop the militants, who week by week seem to seep deeper into Pakistan from their tribal strongholds."

But they couldn't overwhelm the message the people of Buner sent the Taliban--get lost or we will kill you.

"Since the events in Buner, the inspector general of the police in the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, has encouraged citizens in other towns and villages in his realm to form posses of their own. The hope is that determination itself will deter Taliban encroachment, building on the August victory with one phalanx after another of committed citizens."

The U.S. has been applying its own pressure, in the guise of bombs dropped from unmanned drones. At least 18 drone attacks have been announced in Pakistan's tribal regions, primarily west of Bajaur agency in the North and South Waziristan areas. The U.S. doesn't waste expensive weapons on simple gunmen, so you can believe that each attack is on a high-value target, such as Al Qaeda's propaganda chief who was blown to bits late in October.

Note also the other top level targets in this story from Pakistan's Daily Times:

Qaeda propaganda chief killed
* Masri had $1m bounty on his head
*Maulvi Nazir narrowly escapes Wana strike
*Death of Akasha not confirmed


PESHAWAR: Egyptian Al Qaeda operative Abu Jihad Al Masri described by the United States as the terror network’s propaganda chief was killed in one of the two separate US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas on Friday night, security officials said.

Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir narrowly escaped with a leg injury in the strike in South Waziristan, while the death of Al Qaeda finance manager Abdur Rehman Abu Akasha Al Iraqi in North Waziristan could not be confirmed.

The US has offered a one-million-dollar bounty for the death or capture of Al Masri. The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice website said that the balding Al Masri “is in charge of Al Qaeda media and propaganda. He may also be the chief of external operations for Al Qaeda”.

Pakistani officials said he was known to have moved to the Pakistani tribal belt in 2005 or 2006.

“[Maulvi Nazir] has received small bruises in his legs from the attack but he is OK now and has been shifted to a safer place,” his close aide was quoted as saying on Saturday in Wana, regional headquarters of South Waziristan.

“We just returned from the site and it was a miracle that Maulvi Nazir escaped the attack,” sources told Daily Times by telephone from Wana.

A TV channel reported Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, dead in the strike, but that is not probable because Nazir has been fighting Uzbeks and claims to have driven them out last year.

Nazir is seen to be very close to the Afghan Taliban and derives his strength from the Kandahar province. Wana residents had seen an increasing number of ‘people with long kameez’ in the area- a reference to Kandahar Taliban.


One final note in this Fall catch-up on war casualties.

Canada has suffered 18 combat deaths so far in 2008. That's 25 percent fewer than the 24 combat deaths at this time last year. In 2007, a total of 27 soldiers died from combat related causes.

The reduction in Canadian casualties can be attributed to the assistance our forces have received from U.S. troops in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. U.S. casualties are much higher than last year.

Total U.S. and Nato combat deaths stand at 227 to date in 2008, a sharp increase over the 283 combat deaths for all of 2007.

It should be noted that news sources are now saying there have been about 5000 war-related deaths in Afghanistan this year.

They do not say that by mid-November 2007 there had been 5500 deaths.

A reduction of almost 10 percent is apparently not news in the mainstream media.