27 March, 2007

"there would have to be consequences" - ready, set . . .

Tony Blair is pushing the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Darfur, enforced if necessary by the bombing of Sudanese military airfields used for raids on the province, the Guardian has learned.

The controversial initiative comes as a classified new report by a UN panel of experts alleges Sudan has violated UN resolutions by moving arms into Darfur, conducting overflights and disguising its military planes as UN humanitarian aircraft.
. . .

According to Downing Street, he is pushing for a no-fly zone to be passed at the same time as the new sanctions package, in the form of a 'Chapter 7' security council resolution, allowing the use of force.

"The prime minister believes we can do them together," said a Downing Street source. "There could be an agreement in the security council that there could be a no-fly zone. If the Sudanese government broke that agreement there would have to be consequences."

The imposition of a no-fly zone, of the kind employed over Iraq before the invasion, has been widely dismissed by military experts as impractical over an area as large as Darfur, which is the size of France. But the Guardian has learned that US and British officials are considering a cheaper alternative: punitive air strikes against Sudanese air force bases if Khartoum violated the no-fly zone.

The example being considered is the Ivory Coast, where the French wiped out much of the Ivorian air force while its planes and helicopters were sitting on the tarmac, in November 2004. The air strikes were in reprisal for the deaths of nine French peacekeepers in an Ivorian raid on rebel-held areas in the north.
& Tony Blair on the captured British sailors:

"I hope we manage to get them to realize they have to release them," Blair said in an interview with GMTV. If not, then this will move into a different phase."
the Guardian again:

. . . the U.S. Navy staged its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launching a mammoth exercise meant as a message to the Iranians.

The maneuvers with 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft were sure to heighten tensions with Iran . . .

F/A-18 fighter jets roared off the Stennis' flight deck all day, mounting a dozen rapid-fire training sorties against imaginary enemy ships and aircraft. A second task force with the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower also took part in the drills.

"These maneuvers demonstrate our flexibility and capability to respond to threats to maritime security," said Navy Lt. John Perkins, 32, of Louisville, Ky., as the Stennis cruised about 80 miles off the United Arab Emirates after entering the Persian Gulf overnight.

"They're showing we can keep the maritime environment safe and the vital link to the global economy open."
. . .

None of America's naval coalition partners in the region joined the maneuvers.

. . . Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said . . . "The exercise should reassure our friends and allies of our commitment to security and stability in the region," Whitman said. "We are not interested in confrontation in the Gulf."

The war games involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel mounting simulated attacks on enemy aircraft and ships, while hunting submarines and looking for mines.

"What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security," Aandahl said. "These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."

The U.S. drills were the latest in a series of competing American and Iranian war games. Iran conducted naval maneuvers in November and April, while in October the Navy led a training exercise aimed at blocking nuclear smuggling.
. . .

In February, the 5th Fleet's then-commander, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, said he had assured Arab allies that Washington was trying to avoid "a mistake that boils over into war" with Iran.
Can it get any thicker? Can smoke be any more transparent?

meanwhile, from Afghanistan comes this report of NATO's segregated toilets:

Under a bizarre policy that echoes the days of segregation in the United States, Afghans who work at the NATO base at Kandahar Airfield must use separate toilets marked "local nationals only." Several Afghans told The Globe and Mail the practice is insulting, but they are dependent on NATO for their livelihoods and reluctant to speak out.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Blevins, the U.S. officer in charge of administrative contracts, said the segregated toilet policy exists because the bathroom habits of the Afghans are different from those of the North Americans and Europeans who work at the base.

"We’ve always had this policy," Lt.-Col. Blevins said. "It’s not based on a racial thing; it’s just how they use the toilets. They’re not used to toilets. They use squats, or holes in the ground."

One Afghan, who has worked at the base for five years as an interpreter, laughed at this suggestion.
. . .

He said that foreign soldiers told him they wouldn’t use the same toilets as Afghans because they are afraid of catching something contagious.
. . .

Lt.-Col. Blevins said he thinks of the policy as a cultural accommodation, and it makes life easier for the cleaners.
. . .

A few Afghan employees have the privilege of being able to use either set of toilets because they have worked with the coalition long enough to be considered trusted agents.
. . .

More than 1,200 local people come through the gates of Kandahar Airfield most days, according to the Canadian guards who operate the main entrance.

They work in a variety of jobs, from manual labor to translation. They are the Afghans who, in a conflict increasingly characterized as a battle for hearts and minds, have the most direct contact with coalition forces.
ahem . . .

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