Tuesday, July 21, 2009

And the End to the U.S. military prowess continues...

Gates announces Army being increased by 22,000.

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday that the size of the Army will be increased temporarily by 22,000 soldiers to help meet the needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions around the world.

This is the second time since 2007 that the military has determined it doesn't have a large enough force. Gates had already increased the size of the Army and Marine Corps shortly after taking the Pentagon job.

Gates noted that while progress in Iraq will lead to a reduction in the number of troops there, more troops are needed in Afghanistan because of the worsening violence in that conflict. He said the persistent pace of operations in the two wars over several years has meant a steady increase in the number of troops who are wounded, stressed or otherwise unable to deploy with their units.

Also causing a shortage is the decision earlier this year to stop the unpopular practice of keeping troops beyond their enlistment dates, a practice known as "stop-loss."

"The cumulative effect of these factors is that the army faces a period where its ability to continue to deploy combat units (with enough troops) is at risk," Gates said.

"This is a temporary challenge that will peak in the coming year and abate over the course of the next three years," Gates told a Pentagon press conference.

The Army currently has a total troop strength of 547,000, including 65,000 soldiers who were added in recent years.

Gates said he would not seek additional money for the extra troops in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year budgets.

"This decision will result in additional tough choices for the department," he said. "However, I'm convinced that this is an important and necessary step to ensure that we continue to properly support the needs of our commanders in the field while providing relief for our current force and their families."

Gates also said it was "not inevitable" that more U.S. troops would be needed in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 American force expected to be there by the end of the year.

He had said Thursday that there "may be some increase, but not a lot."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took over as commander for all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, is nearing the end of a 60-day review of the campaign what is needed there. The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, had said he needed an additional 10,000 troops, beyond the 68,000. The White House put off that decision until the end of this year.

According to the Army, 13 percent of the personnel in a typical unit heading to war are not available, compared to 11 percent previously.

The Pentagon said roughly 30,000 soldiers can't deploy with their units. About 9,400 soldiers are in so-called "warrior transition units," with either physical or stress-related injuries. Another 10,000 are unavailable because of other less serious injuries, medical screening problems and pregnancy. The other 10,000 have been tapped for other duties, or have just returned from the battlefront and are guaranteed one year at home before they redeploy.

The buildup in Afghanistan and the shift in Iraq from a combat to a training and assistance force added to the problem by pulling individual soldiers out of their units to fill specialized positions, officials have said. That includes the recent Obama administration decisions to create special advisory brigades with extra trainers and other specialists for Iraq.

Vietnam U.S. Troops levels:

Year - Troops

1959 760

1960 900

1961 3,025

1962 11,300

1963 16,300

1964 23,300

1965 184,300

1966 385,300

1967 485,600

1968 536,100

1969 475,200

1970 334,600

1971 156,800

1972 24,200

1973 50


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hamas makes feature film about slain militant

Hamas makes feature film about slain militant
From AP: Saturday, 18 Jul, 2009

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: The Gaza movie premiere drew an exclusive crowd with local celebrities posing for jostling photographers — and that's pretty much where the similarities end between Hollywood and the fledgling film industry of Gaza's Hamas rulers.

The militants' first feature film — an action-packed homage to a top Hamas militant — cost only $200,000 to make and is being shown to segregated audiences.

‘It's Hamaswood instead of Hollywood,’ Fathi Hamad, Gaza's Hamas interior minister, said after the film's first showing Friday evening at Gaza City's Islamic University.

‘We are trying to make quality art that is Islamic and about the resistance, without provocative (sexual) scenes.’

Hamad doubled as producer, and the screenplay was penned by Mahmoud Zahar, the Gaza strongman seen as one of the architects of the group's violent takeover of Gaza two years ago.

Despite his fierce reputation, Zahar, a physician, has always has an artistic streak, with three novels and two screenplays to his credit.

The movie tells the story of Emad Akel, commander of the Hamas' military wing, who was killed in a firefight with Israeli troops in Gaza in 1993.

Akel, 23 at the time, was known as ‘the ghost’ for his many disguises, including dressing up as a Jewish settler with a skullcap. In the early 1990s, he topped Israel's wanted list for his suspected role in killing 11 Israeli soldiers, an Israeli civilian and four Palestinian informers in a series of attacks.

In the two-hour movie, titled ‘Emad Akel,’ there's plenty of action. The hero frequently leaps out of cars to open fire on Israeli soldiers, prompting bursts of applause from the audience each time. There's no romance, however, and the female actors all wear long robes and headscarves.

The actors playing the Israeli characters — soldiers, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his army chief of staff at the time, Ehud Barak — speak heavily accented Hebrew, with Arabic subtitles providing explanations.

Rabin frequently yells at an inept Barak — now Israel's defence minister — who can't stop Hamas fighters. Israeli soldiers always seem asleep. Sleazy Israeli handlers try persuading Palestinians to collaborate by offering them women and alcohol.

The cast is made up of amateur actors, including 57-year-old carpenter Mohammed Abu Rous, who portrays Rabin, assassinated in 1995 by an ultranationalist Jew. ‘I wanted to serve my country just like Rabin served the Jews,’ said Abu Rous, who oddly resembles the Israeli leader.

The movie was shot over 10 months on a production lot that Hamas hopes will one day grow into a $200 million media city.

As part of its media empire, Hamas already operates a Gaza-based satellite television station, a radio station and a dozen news websites. Two daily newspapers are linked to Hamas, and the group produces a Hamas newsletter and an occasional glossy for its militant wing.

Still, Gaza's isolation — its borders have been virtually sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas takeover — is putting a damper on the nascent local film industry.

Hamad and Zahar want to make their next movie about Palestinian fighter Izzedine al-Qassam, after whom their military wing is named. But they can't film on location, the Israeli city of Haifa where their hero lived in the 1920s.

Gaza doesn't have movie houses, and ‘Emad Akel’ will be screened at a cultural centre.

Gaza's cinemas were closed down in the late 1980s, with the outbreak of the first uprising against Israeli occupation because activists across the Palestinian territories felt entertainment was inappropriate at a time of struggle.

But in a stark sign of the divergent paths being taken by the two separate territories the Palestinians want for a state, movie houses are reopening in the West Bank, where Hamas' more secular rival, Fatah, holds sway.

A movie poster in the West Bank city of Nablus shows Lebanese star Haifa Wehbe in an alluring red dress emphasizing her curvy figure — a sharp contrast to the stern face of Emad Akel in Gaza that peers down from billboards clutching an assault-rifle with Israeli soldiers running in the background.

At Friday's invitation-only screening, the real stars were Zahar, Hamad and Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. They chatted with the actors and posed for photographs.

Zahar said making movies is just another way for Palestinians to fight Israeli rule.

‘Resistance can be a word, a poem,’ he said. — AP