Wednesday, September 30

At the UN Obama and Putin lay out opposing world views, and did Vogue magazine launch Armageddon?

President Vladimir Putin's speech  - transcript 
President Barack Obama's speech - transcript

Last night John Batchelor, host of the John Batchelor Show, and Stephen F. Cohen, New York University and Princeton professor Emeritus, analyzed the world views represented in the speeches. Here is the link to the podcast of the discussion.

The gist of the two views:

President Putin argues that Russians had learned from their Soviet experience that no doctrine, no matter how seemingly good and necessary to its adherents, justifies its imposition on other peoples to the point where their sovereignty is ignored and their social order is reduced to ruins.

President Obama argues that democracy is so precious, so incredibly important to human progress, that an "international community" may be justified in ignoring national borders, which are an anachronism anyhow in the days of globalization and social media, in order to promote and uphold it. As to the ruins, the democratic process isn't perfect, after all, but the international community working assiduously together can rebuild the ruins into a strong democratic society.

But I have a question not raised in the discussions. In his speech President Obama in referring to Syria's government said,
Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.
 Odd, I don't remember it starting that way.  I remember it started this way:
The Redirection  by Seymour M. Hersh; March 5, 2007 Issue; The New Yorker:
In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coƶperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran.
The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
All in the name of democracy, freedom, justice, and human rights, to be sure. But I'm just not sure how the deployment of a chemical weapon serves human progress, unless one subscribes to the idea that sometimes you have to destroy a village to save it.

The mystery surrounding the perpetrators of the 2013 chemical attack in Damascus remains unsolved, despite the best efforts of veteran intelligence professionals like Yossef Bodansky and investigative journalists like Seymour Hersh. But the last word goes to Richard Lloyd and Ted Postol, the MIT people who did a forensic analysis of the shells that delivered the chemical. In the comment section in response to a reader who dismissed Hersh's April 4, 2014 report, The Red Line and the Rat Line, which pointed the finger at Turkey's government, they wrote in part:
We do not claim to know who was actually behind the attack of 21 August [2013] in Damascus. But we can say for sure that neither do the people who claim to have clear evidence that it was the Syrian government. The mainstream American media have done a disservice to the public by allowing politically motivated individuals, governments, and non-government organisations to misrepresent facts that clearly point to serious breaches of the truth by the White House.
The chemical attack, and the unintended consequences of covert actions prosecuted by the American government in league with Al-Saud, form a gruesome allegory. It warns that the model of intervention developed to promote democracy -- or any doctrine -- can be used by any government or well-funded faction for its own purposes and palmed off as a blow for justice.

The chemical attack is not the only mystery stemming from attempts to remove Bashar al-Assad from office.

On February 25, 2011, the March issue of Vogue magazine was published.  It contained a first-of-its-kind profile of Assad's wife, Asma, and a look at the Assads' personal life.  On the heels of this, the "Arab Spring" came calling in Syria; within a month of the Vogue issue going on sale, the country was plunging into revolution.

The profile was authored by Joan Juliet Buck at the insistence of Anna Wintour, Vogue's Editor-in-Chief. Buck, who'd been writing for Vogue for 40 years, had no interest in Syria and hadn't want to write the article. But her boss wanted a great puff piece on the Syrian president's chic and pretty British-Syrian wife, and Buck delivered because Anna Wintour always got what she wanted.

Later, after the news broke that Assad was a mass murderer, Vogue and Buck repudiated the article and Vogue set about burying the offensive March issue, without complete success.

But a close reading of the puff piece, coupled with a fairly good knowledge of the House of Saud's views on Islam and knowledge that the Obama Administration was making a pitch at that time for Assad -- and the Iranian leadership -- leads to a chilling question.  (The Administration had reopened the American embassy in Damascus and sent an ambassador there in late 2010.)

Bashar and Asma al-Assad aren't exactly westernized Muslims in the manner of say, Jordan's King Abdullah II and his wife.  They are Westerners.  That's how the Assads see themselves and that's actually what they are. 

The Syrian region is one the oldest seats of Western Civilization. So while Asma is a 'secular' Sunni Muslim and Bashar is an Alawite -- a sect of Shiite Islam -- they represent a strain of thought that places Islam in the context of religions and cultures that created Western Civilization. 

The Western strain of thought can be tolerated to some extent by the guardians of Islam in the Middle East, but I wouldn't have wanted to be in the room when the Saudi king at that time, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was handed the copy of Vogue.  

While he certainly knew the Assads were Western, I think he would have read the Vogue article in the way I did. If the Obama Administration was seeking rapprochement with Syria's government, this would be putting the Assads and their views in a highly visible position on the world stage. And the Muslim stage. 
From that viewpoint there was no way such a couple could be allowed to stay on as heads of state in a Muslim country. The chilling question is how far the House of Saud was willing to go to remove them.

As to Armageddon, according to Graeme Wood's infamous March 2015 article for The Atlantic, What ISIS really wants:
The Islamic State awaits the army of "Rome," whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria [in an Armageddon-like battle], will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.
 Well, nobody ever said God doesn't have a sense of humor.

She is nicknamed Nuclear Wintour


Tuesday, September 29

Latest: Taliban thwart ANA attempts to retake Kunduz

  • Taliban infiltrated city during biggest Muslim holiday of the year.
  • Taliban gunmen going door to door “searching for government officials, local police commanders, anyone they can think of. No one is safe.”
  • Two US airstrikes made no dent.
Associated Press via Portland Press Herald
9:58 PM EST - September 29, 2015
Afghanistan insurgents stop bid to retake city
By Lynne O'Donnell
Despite U.S. air strikes on Taliban positions, government troops sent to retake Kunduz are stalled.

KABUL, Afghanistan— A day after a strategic northern city fell to the Taliban, the insurgents fanned out in full force Tuesday, closing roads, throwing up checkpoints and torching government buildings as fearful residents huddled indoors amid signs a promised Afghan counteroffensive was faltering.

U.S. warplanes carried out two airstrikes on Taliban positions, but government ground troops sent to try to retake Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s wealthiest cities, were stalled by roadblocks and ambushes, unable to move closer than about a mile toward their target.

A NATO officer said more airstrikes were unlikely as “all the Taliban are inside the city and so are all the people.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media on the issue.

His words suggested the fight to retake the city would involve painstaking street-by-street fighting as government forces try to avoid civilian casualties in retaking control.

Inside the city, residents were stunned by the audacity of the insurgents, who attacked Kunduz on a number of fronts before dawn on Monday, taking the government, intelligence agency and military by surprise.

The insurgents used mosque loudspeakers to try to reassure people they were safe. But residents, recalling the group’s brutality during its 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, were fearful of what was to come.

“Kunduz is a ghost city now, fear has locked people inside their homes,” said Folad Hamdad, a local freelance journalist who escaped late Monday to neighboring Takhar province.

He said Taliban gunmen were going door to door “searching for government officials, local police commanders, anyone they can think of. No one is safe.”

The fall of the city of 300,000 inhabitants – the first urban area taken by the Taliban since the U.S. invasion ousted their regime 14 years ago – is a major setback to President Ashraf Ghani, who has staked his presidency on bringing peace to Afghanistan and seeking to draw the Taliban to peace talks.

In a televised address, he vowed to take Kunduz back from the insurgents, urging the nation to trust Afghan troops to do the job.

“The enemy has sustained heavy casualties,” he said. “The enemy’s main objective was to create fear and terror.”

U.S. warplanes carried out two airstrikes, one early Tuesday morning and another just before midnight near the Kunduz airport to eliminate a threat to the force, said Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai said Taliban fighters had infiltrated the city during the recent Eid holiday, the biggest of the year when millions of Afghans move around the country to spend time with family.



Amrullah Saleh: Taliban go on rampage in captured areas of Kunduz City

"This time [the Taliban] could not hide their faces under the pretext of humanity or Sharia law. Social media has helped in unmasking the Taliban ..."

By Anisa Shaheed
Tuesday, 29 September 2015 - 19:16 [local time] 

The former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Amrullah Saleh on Tuesday told TOLOnews that Taliban militants are terrorizing Kunduz residents, have killed civilians and torched government offices and looted properties in the city.

He said the Taliban plans to leave behind a damaged city when government forces retake control.

Saleh said the Taliban insurgents have brutally killed three young men after accusing them of siding with the government. He said reports indicate that the insurgents killed the victims by driving over them in their vehicles.

He added that the militants also stormed a maternity hospital in the city and shot dead three nurses.

According to him, at least 200 female patients in the hospital were badly traumatized by the incident. He said among the patients are 18 of whom are in critical condition.

He also confirmed that the insurgents had freed 600 inmates from the Kuduz prison.

Saleh believes that the Taliban militants used the opportunity to seize the city on the back of there being very few security force members in the city at the time.

On Monday, reports emerged that the majority of Kunduz-based troops were deployed to districts in the province when the siege took place.

"Taliban's acts are inhuman ... This time they [the Taliban] could not hide their faces under the pretext of humanity or Sharia law. Social media has helped in unmasking the Taliban and it helped revealing the real face of them, which is brutality," Saleh said.

He said the insurgents had achieved their goals in Kunduz and will leave the province in order to take the loot they have robbed. But he added that they will also protect the individuals that helped them to capture the city.

He called on security officials not to become emotional after retaking the city; rather they should chase down the militants in their strongholds and hideouts.

"I have a message to Afghanistan leadership: I don't want to name anyone but there are a number of officials that should resign respectfully," he said adding that it is these officials who failed to safeguard the city and prevent infiltration.

Meanwhile, most Afghans clearly remember the Taliban's brutality during their rule in Kabul in the mid-1990s till 2001, saying that the Taliban oppress the Afghan people and that their goal is to eliminate the government of Afghanistan.

[More in a video interview] 


See also Kunduz Residents Lose Millions As Taliban Go On Looting Spree.


Long War Journal: Taliban claim to seize much more territory in Afghanistan's north

There are also reports of widespread Taliban looting in Kunduz. See TOLOnews report, Kunduz Residents Lose Millions As Taliban Go On Looting Spree 

Long War Journal
Bill Roggio
September 29, 2015
Taliban claims it seized 3 districts in Takhar province
If the loss of Yangi Qala, Ishkamish, and Bangi districts is confirmed, then it is a clear indication that the Taliban are serious about taking control of not just Kunduz city, but the entire Afghan north. The Taliban are effectively in control of Kunduz province, with only Imam Sahib contested (Khanabad district fell to the Taliban yesterday along with Kunduz). The Taliban are also in control of a handful of districts in Badakhshan and contest several districts in Baghlan.
Much more in the LWJ  report. No reports this afternoon in Western media about the status of the fighting in Kunduz City except rehashes of earlier news. From an early news report today, journalists have been barred from the city and were having to depend on 'citizen journalists' in Kunduz phoning in their eyewitness accounts in the attempt to get a picture of what was going on. 

From news sources I quoted in my earlier posts/updates today, the Afghan government is putting a positive spin on the fighting, saying they've taken back several key sites in Kunduz from Taliban control. Propaganda on both sides.

An American LWJ reader, in response to the above post, tried to see the bright side, writing that all this seizing of territory was simply a feint to divert defending forces from Kunduz city. No way to tell at this point whether he's right. Fog of war. 

8-1/2 hour time diference between A'stan and Eastern USA.  Afgan websites Pajhwok, Khaama Press and TOLOnews will probably have earliest reports on the status of the fighting and they have plenty of news on situations related to the attack. (TOLO site was down for several hours this morning but now back online.)  

See these earlier Pundita posts today for background reports; all times Eastern US:

Conflicting statements at this point about progress of Battle of Kunduz - 12:45 PM 

Tom Joscelyn's testimony to Congress on US counterterrorism strategy in Syria

"We were asked to assess whether or not the U.S. and its allies have a winning strategy. I would argue that there currently is no comprehensive strategy in place. The West’s involvement is ad hoc, tactical and reactionary. "

Long War Journal
September 29, 2015

Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade on the US counterterrorism strategy in Syria.  [...]

Finally someone who can chew and walk lays out the situation as it is, not as the spin doctors in the Pentagon, White House, Congress, partisan mass media, etc. would have Americans believe it to be.  


Conflicting statements at this point about progress of Battle of Kunduz

I updated my first post on the Kunduz situation 4 times this morning; after this post I'm going to be signing off for the day.  

First, from a report by Afghanistan's Khaama Press at 4:04PM local time on a  joint press conference in Kabul with President Ashraf Ghani and security officials this afternoon:
Rahmatullah Nabil, director of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said that there was prior knowledge of a possible attack on Kundoz, adding that high profile prisoners were already moved to Pul-i-Charkhi jail in Kabul.
Masoum Stanikzai, the acting Defense Minister told reporters at the press conference that Taliban advancement in Kundoz was not based on a deal. He said that negligence in duties have taken place.
Afghan Forces Battle Taliban to Retake Kunduz
Ayaz Gul
Last updated on: September 29, 2015 10:13 AM

Voice of America


Afghanistan’s national security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, launched a counteroffensive against the Taliban Tuesday to retake control of the northern city of Kunduz, the first major city the insurgents have captured since being ousted from power in 2001.

Both sides made conflicting claims about the fighting and death toll. Health officials said, since the fighting began, local hospitals have recorded 16 dead and nearly 200 wounded in the fighting, but gave no other details.

The Afghan defense ministry said its security forces, including commando units, began attacking Taliban positions early Tuesday in their bid to enter Kunduz, population 300,000.

The defense ministry said U.S. planes also bombed insurgents at the ministry’s request.

NATO spokesman Colonel Brian Tribus confirmed the airstrike was carried out, and said the strike was done "to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces" around Kunduz.

President Ashraf Ghani told reporters in Kabul that national forces have made quick advances, retaking control of several buildings, including a newly built police station and the city's prison.

Ghani, who marked his first anniversary in office Tuesday, said that airstrikes have inflicted heavy casualties on the opposition, insisting Taliban insurgents are using residents in Kunduz as “human shields."

He urged his nation to trust Afghan troops and not give in to “fear and terror.”

Deny claim

But the Taliban denied official claims of advances in Kunduz.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a statement emailed to VOA, said the insurgents remain in firm control of the city and are consolidating positions to defend Kunduz.

The Associated Press reported Taliban gunmen patrolled Kunduz streets Tuesday, setting up checkpoints, searching for government loyalists and sealing off exit routes for anyone trying to leave the city.



Map of terror group strongholds in A'stan plus UN stats on Islamic State activity

Thank you Washington Post

by Edwin Mora
September 28, 2015

The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is expanding its presence in Afghanistan, recruiting followers in nearly 75 percent of the country’s 34 provinces, according to a United Nations report.

That revelation comes less than a year after ISIS announced the establishment of a province in the Khorasan, a historic name for a regions that encompasses Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of Iran, and other surrounding countries.

“The number of groups and individuals who are openly declaring either loyalty to or sympathy with ISIL continues to grow in a number of provinces in Afghanistan,” said the UN report, which has been quoted by various news agencies, including Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Afghan government sources told the UN that “sightings of the groups with some form of ISIL branding” or sympathy were reported in 25 provinces in the country, added the UN report.

ISIS, which has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria, has been trying to establish a footholdin Afghanistan, posing a challenge to the Taliban.

An estimated 10 percent of Taliban members are considered ISIS sympathizers, the UN learned from Afghan security forces, according to the report prepared by the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions committee.

Following the release of the UN report, local Afghan officials reportedly said that at least 300 militants linked to ISIS attacked police checkpoints in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, along the Pakistan border.

BBC quoted a local official, saying that at least two police officers and 60 militants were killed in the attack in the Achin district, close to Pakistan.

ISIS loyalists primarily target Afghan security forces, except in Nangarhar province, where they are fighting the Taliban for control of the illicit opium trade, revealed the UN report.

Al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters from Pakistan and Uzbekistan have pledged allegiance to ISIS after leaving their country and have “rebranded themselves” in recent months, added the report.

Moreover, up to 70 ISIS jihadists from Iraq and Syria are now part of the core ISIS branch in Afghanistan, noted the report.

The growing emergence of ISIS is not considered to be an “immediate increased threat” by Afghan security authorities, said the report, adding that they are nevertheless monitoring the “potential new threat.”

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior (MoI) denied the presence of ISIS in 25 Afghan provinces, adding that the country’s National Security Council had approved a strategy to fight the jihadist group, reports Pajhwok Afghan News.

MoI Spokesman Sadique Sadiqui did acknowledge that ISIS poses a “huge threat on national and regional level.”

“He said the activities of IS had been traced by the intelligence agencies in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces,” adds the report.

The United States has expressed concerns about ISIS’ efforts to establish a stronghold in Afghanistan, reports Voice of America, citing an anonymous senior State Department official.

“It is a newly emerging threat,” said the American official. “It is unpredictable as yet how it might evolve. It is something that we are taking seriously.”



Hajj disaster widens; anger that death toll seems much higher than Saudis said

Hajj disaster: Foreign officials question Saudi death toll
September 29, 2015

Officials from several countries have said that more than 1,000 people died in last week's stampede near Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The last figure given by the Saudi authorities was 769.

However, a Nigerian official told the BBC that more than 1,000 bodies had been taken from the disaster site to morgues in the city of Jeddah.

Indian, Pakistani and Indonesian officials have also been quoted as saying they think more than 1,000 died.

A Nigerian Hajj official from Kano told the BBC's Yusuf Ibrahim Yakasai that he had been to Jeddah, where the dead from Thursday's crush are being processed.

The official said that in total, 14 trucks loaded with bodies were brought to the city.

He added that so far 1,075 bodies had been offloaded from 10 trucks and taken into the morgues. Four trucks had yet to be dealt with, he said.

Several countries have been severely critical of the way the Saudi authorities have handled the accident's aftermath, notably Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, which lost more than 140 people in the disaster.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that Saudi authorities had released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who died. Pakistani and Indonesian officials have also indicated that they have been sent more than 1,000 such images.

As yet the Saudi authorities have not explained the discrepancy in the figures.

Thursday's stampede was the deadliest incident to hit the Hajj in 25 years.



BUT Saudi gov. can explain the photos:

Saudi Arabia's police say 1,100 photos of dead given to diplomats not limited to hajj disaster
Associated Press 

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry says the nearly 1,100 photos distributed to foreign diplomats to help identify nationals who've died in the hajj are from the entire pilgrimage and not just a disaster near Mecca.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press Tuesday the pictures given to diplomats also include people who died of natural causes. Others are from the 111 people who died when a crane crashed into Mecca's Grand Mosque on Sept. 11.

Saudi authorities say the death toll from the crush of pilgrims in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, is still 769 people.



Bangladesh joins list of Islamic State kill zones: Western aid worker murdered

Western envoys in Bangladesh limit movements after attack claimed by Islamic State
Tue Sep 29, 2015 -  6:40am EDT

(DHAKA)  Western embassies in Bangladesh have restricted the movements of their diplomats, citing "reliable" information that more foreign interests will be targeted after an Italian aid worker was shot dead in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

However, police did not confirm the involvement of the hardline Islamist group, which has ambitions to spread into South Asia. Police in the Bangladeshi capital arrested two suspected recruiters for Islamic State this year.

In a communique translated by U.S. security analysts SITE, Islamic State said a "security detachment" had tracked Cesare Tavella before shooting him with silenced weapons on Monday.

Tavella, 50, was shot in Dhaka's diplomatic quarter by gunmen on a motorcycle. He had arrived in Bangladesh in May, and ran a food security project for ICCO, a Netherlands development group backed by Christian churches.

In its statement, Islamic State hinted at more attacks in Bangladesh and said citizens of what it called "the crusader coalition" were not safe, even in the homes of Muslims.

Attacks on foreigners are rare in Bangladesh, which has suffered a rising tide of Islamist violence over the past year, with four online critics of religious militancy hacked to death, among them a U.S. citizen of Bangladesh origin.

The government is fighting to restrain the Islamist groups, who want to turn the Muslim-majority South Asian nation of 160 million into a sharia-based Islamic state.

The U.S. embassy said its diplomats were instructed not to go outside overnight after Monday's shooting and warned of possible attacks on U.S. facilities, citizens and interests.

"In light of the increased threat, U.S. citizens should consider limiting their attendance at events where foreigners may gather, including events at international hotels," it said in a statement late on Monday.

Australia, Britain and Canada also told embassy officials to avoid events where Westerners may gather and warned of possible attacks in "late September".

The motive for Tavella's shooting was unknown, said acting inspector general of police Mokhlesur Rahman.

"But, based on our experience, we can say it is a pre-planned murder," he told reporters after visiting the crime scene in the Gulshan neighborhood, home to several embassies.

Another police officer investigating the shooting said Tavella's belongings had been left untouched, which appeared to rule out theft as a motive.

Last week, the Australian cricket team delayed its planned departure to Bangladesh after being warned of a potential security risk from militants. The side were due to fly from Sydney on Monday morning for the three-week tour.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Clarence Fernandez)



Kunduz falls: "White House down. Office abandoned, all files burned." UPDATED 4X - latest update 9:25 AM EDT


"After entering Kunduz City, Taliban militants, the Haqqani network, and other insurgents misused the opportunity and looted people’s houses and their belongings, the MoD claimed."

"... the [MOD] statement said: “Taliban terrorists who are directed by regional intelligence agencies are fleeing Kunduz city ..." 

By "regional intelligence agencies" the Afghan MoD means Pakistan's ISI.

Quotes from Pajhwok report in 9:00 AM update. 

Associated Press report [emphasis throughout mine]


On the ground, Afghan forces were regrouping to try and take back this city of nearly 300,000 people — the first urban area seized by the Taliban since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted their regime.

The city fell Monday, after hundreds of Taliban gunmen launched a coordinated, multi-pronged attack at several points around the city. After a day of fierce fighting, they managed to overrun government buildings and hoisted their flag in the city square. The fast-moving assault took the military and intelligence authorities by surprise.

A newly-built police headquarters and the prison in Kunduz were already freed from the Taliban and taken back, the [MoD] statement said. That claim could not independently be verified as the city was off limits to media

Residents, reached over the phone by The Associated Press, said sporadic gunfire could still be heard around the city on Tuesday morning. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.

During the Taliban assault on the city on Monday, the insurgents had freed around 600 inmates — including 144 members of the Taliban — from Kunduz prison, officials said.

In Kabul, the National Security Council was to meet later Tuesday over the fall of Kunduz, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss government plans.

The International Red Cross said it had evacuated two of its three international staff from Kunduz, flying them to the nearby city of Mazar-I-Sharif. The U.N. office in Kunduz was also evacuated.

The city's fall comes as Ghani marks one year office. The president, who has staked his presidency on pledges of bringing peace to Afghanistan and who seeks to draw the Taliban to peace talks, was to address the nation later Tuesday.

Kunduz is one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Afghanistan, and the surrounding province, also called Kunduz, is one of the country's chief breadbaskets. It lies on a strategic crossroads connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan, China and Central Asia.



UPDATE 9:00 am EDT

Kunduz police HQ, central jail retaken, operation on
By Pajhwok
September 29, 2015 - 11:31 AM [local time]

KABUL/KUNDUZ CITY (Pajhwok): Afghan forces recaptured the police headquarters and the central jail in northern Kunduz province from Taliban militants during a clearing operation launched on Tuesday morning, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The Taliban launched their coordinated attacks from various directions on Kunduz City, the provincial capital, on Sunday night and were able to capture the entire city until late Monday.

The large number of rebels took control of military and civil facilities including the 200-bed civil hospital, the police headquarters, schools, markets and some provincial departments and set free hundreds of inmates from the central jail after capturing it, in what appeared to be the Taliban’s first major victory since 2001.

The Afghan Ministry of Defnece (MoD) in a statement said reinforcements reached Kunduz City this morning and launched operation to retake Kunduz City from Taliban militants.

The statement said the police headquarters and the central jail had been retaken from Taliban’s control.

The rebels on Monday set free hundreds of prisoners from Kunduz central jail after gaining control of it.

The MoD said the enemy was weak and could not put up resistance and security forces were advancing.

The MoD statement said Kunduz City was currently surrounded by security forces and Taliban militants were inflicted heavy casualties during the ongoing operation.

Without giving exact figures, the statement said: “Taliban terrorists who are directed by regional intelligence agencies are fleeing Kunduz city, only some of them are firing from residential buildings at Afghan forces.”

The MoD assured local residents that Afghan forces were taking all possible measures to protect their lives.

After entering Kunduz City, Taliban militants, the Haqqani network, and other insurgents misused the opportunity and looted people’s houses and their belongings, the MoD claimed.

“The capture of Kunduz City by Taliban is just a propaganda achievement for the rebel group, we are sure these terrorists would stay ground against Afghan forces.”

Eyewitnesses had previously said except the airport and Bala Hesar area, all other areas of the city had fallen to the Taliban.

Afghan security forces are currently stationed in Kunduz airport, Bala Hesar and Bagh Sherkat areas.

A separate MoD statement issued on Monday evening said 35 militants had been killed and a number of others injured during clashes with Afghan forces.

However, the Taliban claimed they had captured large areas from government forces and had killed 15 soldiers during the attacks on the city. They also claimed seizing a large amount of weapons and equipment from security forces.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted early Tuesday that fresh Afghan troops had been sent to northern parts of the city, where an operation to clear Kunduz of Taliban had been initiated.

US-led coalition forces also conducted their first airstrike on Talban targets on the outskirts of Kunduz city in the morning.

The Taliban reportedly also killed some female medics and tribal elders in the city; unverified pictures on social media show the Taliban driving International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles seized in Kunduz.

Afghan Ministry of Public Health spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said: “Our hospitals in Kunduz province have received 172 injured patients and 16 dead bodies so far”.





Afghan forces ready to take Kunduz back from Taliban, official says
By Masoud Popalzai and Holly Yan, CNN
Tue September 29, 2015 - Updated 3:23 AM EDT 


Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) Afghan security forces arrived in Kunduz on Tuesday morning and have started retaking areas of the city from the Taliban, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said.

"A big military operation to clear all Kunduz city is about to start," spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

U.S. forces joined in the military action, launching an airstrike in Kunduz on Tuesday, said Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz prison, a police compound and the neighborhood of Zir Dawra are among the areas Afghan forces have secured, Sediqqi said.
Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the Kunduz police chief, said Taliban insurgents seized the main roundabout in the city and made it to the prison, where they freed more than 500 inmates.

The Taliban also claimed to have seized a 200-bed hospital -- posting photos to social media that they claimed proved their control of the facility.

The Taliban has bolstered its strength north of Kunduz for months and has had its eyes on the city.

Kunduz is the capital of Kunduz province, an affluent area known for its trade ties. The main route to Tajikistan also runs through Kunduz province.

And the release of 500 prisoners by the Taliban makes the security situation in Kunduz even more challenging.



The latest, from Associated Press 2:00 am EDT via The New York Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military says it has carried out an airstrike on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that was captured by the Taliban the previous day.
U.S. Army Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan, says the airstrike early Tuesday was conducted "in order to eliminate a threat to the force."
The city fell Monday with the Taliban overrunning government buildings and hoisting their flag in the city square.
Sarwar Hussaini, a provincial police spokesman, says Afghan forces have launched an operation on several fronts around Kunduz to try and retake the city.
Kunduz is the first city seized by the Taliban since their regime was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The city's fall comes as President Ashraf Ghani marks one year office.

We have come full circle in  Afghanistan. 

In my view the onslaught in the north of Afghanistan this year and the taking of Kunduz yesterday is Pakistan's military saying to Ghani that his government had better get off its high horse and negotiate with a Pakistan-led team of Taliban on how to carve up the country. That suits the U.S. Department of State and their masters just fine.  

I have nothing else to say because I've already said it many times before, and hurling recriminations at my government and NATO won't do a bit of good. 

Here's the Reuters report I quoted in the header, timestamped 10:33a,m IST Tuesday Sept. 29.  And here is a report from Long War Journal, from yesterday, on the Kunduz situation from Long War Journal. 

And I'd suggest you listen to Bill Roggio and Thomas Josceyln's weekly report Monday night for the John Batchelor Show; it's the first two segments in the podcast. They discuss both Afghanistan and Syria.  

By the way, John mentioned that Tom will be giving testimony tomorrow to a congressional committee on the security situations.  It's a little late in the day for Congress to be soliciting the input of Long War Journal.

Wait, I think I will scare up one more observation:  "For me, the Taliban is on the inside the building."

In a heated and dramatic congressional hearing today, witnesses who served with the U.S. diplomatic corps in Libya and pushed for a stronger security presence repeatedly faulted the State Department for standing in their way - one even referring to the State Department officials he described as obstructionist as if they were Taliban terrorists.
The former regional security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, recalled talking to a regional director and asking for twelve security agents.
"His response to that was, 'You are asking for the sun, moon and the stars.' And my response to him - his name was Jim - 'Jim, you know what makes most frustrating about this assignment? It is not the hardships, it is not the gunfire, it is not the threats. It is dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.
And I added ... 'For me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.'"
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, the commander of a Security Support Team (SST) sent home in August - against his wishes and, he says, the wishes of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens - said "we were fighting a losing battle. We couldn't even keep what we had."
Nordstrom agreed, saying, "it was abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is again, 'How thin does the ice need to get until someone falls through?'"
In Afghanistan, we have the answer.


Monday, September 28

A Saudi prince greatly underestimates Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin

September 10, 2013

On August 2, 2013, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan [then Director General of Saudi Intelligence Agency] had an unprecedented meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

Their meeting covered a host of issues ranging from future energy economy to the situation in Egypt to what to do about Syria.

Throughout, Bandar made a huge mistake – believing that Putin was just like the successive US senior officials Bandar has dealt with in the past – namely, that like the Americans, Putin would also be easy to bribe with flattery, weapons acquisition, and oil-related cash.

Putin was not.

Of significance to the issue of the chemical strike in Damascus was the exchange between Bandar and Putin regarding the future of Bashar al-Assad. Bandar wanted Putin to support the toppling of the Assad Administration and its replacement with a Saudi-sponsored opposition administration. Bandar promised that Russia’s interests in Syria would be preserved by the proposed Saudi-sponsored post-Assad government.

In this context Bandar sought to both allay Putin’s concerns regarding jihadist terrorism and to deliver a veiled threat.

“As an example,” Bandar stated, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move [also] in the direction of the Syrian territory without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”

Putin responded quietly. “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Bandar again discussed the Syrian issue at length. He stressed that as far as Riyadh was concerned, there was no future for the Assad Administration.

“The Syrian regime is finished as far as we and the majority of the Syrian people are concerned,” Bandar said, and they, the Syrian people, “will not allow President Bashar al-Assad to remain at the helm.”

Putin responded that Moscow’s “stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters.”

Again, Bandar resorted to threats. He warned Putin that their dispute over the future of Syria led him, Bandar, to conclude that “there is no escape from the [US-led] military option, because it is the only currently available choice given that the political settlement ended in stalemate”. Bandar added that Riyadh saw no future for the negotiating process.

Bandar expected such a military intervention to soon commence.

Did he have any foreknowledge of a provocation to come? Significantly, Bandar insisted throughout his visit to Moscow that his initiative and message were coordinated with the highest authorities in Obama’s Washington.

“I have spoken with the Americans before the visit, and they pledged to commit to any understandings that we may reach, especially if we agree on the approach to the Syrian issue,” Bandar assured Putin.


October 23, 2013

Upset at President Barack Obama's policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a 'major shift' in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria's civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.


Saudi anger boiled over after Washington refrained from military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus in August when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons arsenal.


Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Democratic leadership, told Reuters' Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.

'We know their game. They're trying to send a signal that we should all get involved militarily in Syria, and I think that would be a big mistake to get in the middle of the Syrian civil war,' Van Hollen said.

'And the Saudis should start by stopping their funding of the al Qaeda-related groups in Syria.


Prince Bandar bin Sultan (Wikipedia)

In the summer of 2013, after the U.S., UK and French officials accused Syria's Assad regime of using chemical weapons against its opponents, Syria, Russia and Iran, countered with assertions that the chemical weapons had actually been deployed by the Syrian rebels themselves in a "false flag" attack designed to bring international condemnation down on the Syrian government.

Prince Bandar became one focus of these accusations, in particular according to the findings of American news organisation Mint Press News reports of the Ghouta residents;[66]

Iranian media also asserted that Bandar was the source of these alleged weapons transfers.[67]

A court affidavit filed on 3 February 2015 claims that Zacarias Moussaoui served as a courier between Osama bin Laden and Turki bin Faisal Al Saud in the late 1990s, and that Turki introduced Moussaoui to Bandar.[68] The Saudi government continues to deny any involvement in the 9/11 plot, and claims there is no evidence to support Moussaoui's allegations in spite of numerous intense investigations previously, noting that Moussaoui's own lawyers presented evidence of his mental incompetence during his trial.[68]

Removed as head of Intelligence Service

On 15 April 2014 Prince Bandar bin Sultan was removed from his position "at his own request" according to the announcement in the Saudi state media.[60][61] he remained as Secretary General of the National Security Council until it was abolished in January 2015.

Zacarias Moussaoui's Mental State


To restore, to reaffirm, to reassert, to succor


Sunday, September 27

Bangkok Erawan Shrine bombing: 2 suspects arrested a month ago are the perps?

If he did confess it was probably because he couldn't take another minute of the investigation

Adem Karadag, the man Thai investigators now say was seen on security-camera footage planting a bomb just minutes before it exploded at Erawan Shrine, being escorted by police through the blast site on September 26, 2015.  Photo: AFP: Christophe Archambault

The WSJ (see report below) couldn't reach either of the suspects' attorneys for comment but AFP spoke yesterday with Karadag's attorney:
Karadag's lawyer Chuchart Kanphai told AFP on Saturday he was denied access to his client earlier this week by officials at the military barracks in Bangkok where he is being detained because the suspect was "sick".
Mr Kanphai added that he did not believe his client — who he says is called Bilal Mohammed and was not in the country at the time of the attack — had confessed.
Okay, well, as long as the police are certain this time that they're certain, and they're not going to change their minds a week from now, I think this is all anybody aside from the lawyer really cares about at this point. Just some relief from the investigation is all we're asking.         

Thailand Police Say Foreign Man Filmed Planting Bomb Is in Custody
Updated September 26, 2015 - 7:39 a.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal

Suspect’s identity confirmed by security footage, eyewitness accounts and confession, police say

BANGKOK—Thai police said Saturday that a foreign man held in custody for the past month is the same man seen on security-camera footage planting a bomb just minutes before it ripped through a popular Bangkok shrine last month, killing 20 people.

The man, identified as Adem Karadag but who is suspected by police to use a number of aliases, was arrested at an apartment in Bangkok’s suburbs for allegedly possessing bomb-making materials and a stack of blank Turkish passports. His nationality hasn’t been confirmed. Police Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters that as the investigation progressed, police uncovered evidence that Mr. Karadag played a more substantial role in the attack.

“It’s confirmed,” Lt. Gen. Prawut said. “Adem is the man in the yellow shirt based on CCTV footage, eyewitness accounts and his own confession.”

Lt. Gen. Prawut said that after placing the bomb in a rucksack at the shrine, he took a motorcycle taxi to a nearby park where he changed his clothing in a restroom.

Police took the man and another suspect also arrested last month—an ethnic-Uighur from China named Yusufu Mieraili—to the site of the blast at the Erawan Shrine on Saturday afternoon. Amid tight security, the men were paraded past media and police camera teams, a customary police procedure in Thailand.

“Today, police officials are very confident that both Adem and Yusufu are the perpetrators, and that the yellow-shirted Adem planted the bomb while Yusufu triggered it,” national police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung said.

Neither Mr. Karadag nor Mr. Mieraili could be reached for comment, nor could their lawyers.

The majority of those killed in the August 17 attack were foreign visitors, many of them Chinese tourists, which has prompted speculation as to the possible motives for the bombing.

Gen. Somyot this month suggested the human traffickers specializing in smuggling ethnic-Uighur Muslims from China to Turkey might have planned the bombing in response to Thailand’s efforts to crack down on trafficking in recent months. Some security analysts, however, have suggested the bombing might be linked to Thailand’s move in July to deport 109 Uighurs back to China, where human rights advocates say they face widespread discrimination and abuse.

The deportations triggered violent protests at a Thai consulate in Turkey, where nationalist groups view the Uighurs as part of a broader Turkic-speaking nation stretching across parts of Central Asia to the Xinjiang region in western China.



Vladimir Putin and Charlie Rose chow down

Putin must have considered Rose reasonably intelligent; the last journalist who was a dinner guest didn't last past the first course. Can't remember the fellow's name; I think he might have filed his report for TIME but don't hold me to that guess. I would have felt sympathy for his dismissal from the table except his questions were fluff-brained.       
Ad Week/ TV Newser by Chris Ariens, September 26:

Following his interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin outside Moscow, airing on the season premiere of CBS 60 Minutes Sunday, September 27, Charlie Rose and his team, including 60 Minutes ep Jeff Fager, were invited to have tea.

“And tea turned into dinner. And the food kept coming in,” Rose said on CBS This Morning. “I’ve interviewed lots of heads of state,” Rose said, but it’s the first time he’s been invited to stay for dinner. The camera was allowed in for less than a minute, Rose said.

In the interview, Rose asked Putin about how he’s perceived in America. “Maybe they have nothing else to do in America but talk about me,” Putin said with a laugh.



Just in time for Blood Moon: Iran as much accuses Saudis of murdering Hajj pilgrims

September 24, day before the stampede: Hajj attendees walk across bridge for the ritual of symbolically stoning the Devil.

Photo from CNN

Graphic from BBC

Reuters, September 27
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used a major United Nations speech on Saturday to demand an investigation into a crush that killed more than 700 people at the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

The fact that Rouhani used a U.N. summit meeting on global development goals to reiterate Iran's outrage over the haj tragedy was a sign that Tehran does not intend to tone down criticism of its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Both Iran and the Saudis see themselves as leaders in the Muslim world.
In his speech to the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani emphasized the need for an investigation into "the causes of this incident and other similar incidents in this year's haj."
The Iranians were just getting warmed up. "We will urge international courts and circles to start the trial of the Saudis for their crimes against hajj pilgrims," said Iran's Prosecutor General Ebrahim Rais, and, "Under international law, this incident is absolutely subject to prosecution."
As to whether there's anything to the accusation,  there are very different versions about how the tragedy happened.  

From a September 26 Associated Press report, large crowds of pilgrims were funneled at the same time by two narrow roads that converged (at right angles), making a chokepoint in Mina, a tent city on the outskirts of Mecca and site for the trek to the stone-throwing part of the Hajj ritual at the Jamarat pillars.

The Iranian government claimed yesterday that the crush happened because --
... Saudi authorities blocked a road used by hajj pilgrims to allow a royal convoy to pass through, causing the deadly convergence in the town of Mina
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press that a VIP convoy traveling through Mina on Thursday, which included foreign dignitaries, had nothing to do with the incident and was in a different part of town. He said VIPs use their own roads in Mina.
And there's the bombshell version
Hajj stampede caused by Iranian pilgrims “not following instructions”: Hajj mission official
By Sa'ed Al-AbyadhSaturday, 26 September 2015
Asharq Al-Aswat ["the world's leading Arabic international newspaper," published in London] 
A group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims did not wait for clearance to leave Jamarat
[See the website for a photograph of Street 204.] 
Asharq Al-Awsat—The Hajj tragedy that has left hundreds of people dead and injured was caused by a group of Iranian pilgrims who failed to follow instructions from Hajj authorities, an official from Iran’s Hajj mission has revealed.
At least 717 pilgrims were killed and 863 injured on Thursday when two large groups of people collided at a crossroads in Mina, east of the Muslim holy city of Mecca, the Saudi interior ministry said.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue, said the accident occurred after a group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims failed to follow orders requiring them to wait for clearance to leave Jamarat—the site where pilgrims perform the “stoning the devil” ritual.
Instead, the group went back to their mission’s headquarters as other groups were on their way to the site as scheduled, according to the official.
"The group stopped for a while, causing the coming pilgrims to take a route no more than 20 meters wide,” he said, adding that such behavior often leads to tragic consequences in crowded areas.
The Iranian pilgrims were scheduled to leave Jamarat hours after the accident took place, the official said.
Meanwhile, a Saudi security source said authorities may check security cameras installed in the tunnel leading to Jamarat to verify when the Iranian group left the site.
The majority of eyewitnesses who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat agreed that the crush occurred after pilgrims “failed to follow orders from security.”
Yahia Hamida, a 26-year-old pilgrim from Jordan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “an unusual mass of pilgrims congregated on Street 204 [that leads to Jamarat] after some entered the wrong lane.”
“Movement on Street 204 was normal until a large number of pilgrims came in the opposite direction, which stopped movement for about an hour and a half before the elderly began to collapse,” another pilgrim said.
Saudi interior ministry has said investigations into the causes of the tragic stampede were underway and that “high temperature and tiredness” contributed to the accident.
Ibrahim Al-Qurashi contributed additional reporting from Mina
Was President Rouhani's very public accusation in response to the Asharq Al-Awsat report?  No time stamp on the report, but given that the website is published out of London, which is five hours ahead of New York time, and that it doesn't cite the new death and injury tolls, which seem to have been updated at some point yesterday, I think it's fairly certain that the report was published hours before Rouhani addressed the U.N. And if not from the report, Rouhani would have been aware of the Iran Hajj Mission official's remarks about the incident before he spoke at the U.N. 

Iranians are the largest group of casualties identified so far, according to the AP report. The death toll now stands at 769. According to another Reuters report, the Saudi Health Minister explained at a press conference that the higher death toll reflects those who succumbed to their injuries after they survived the stampede:
"Those are the ones who died in various hospitals since the event," he said, adding that 934 people were wounded.
Shi'ite Muslim Iran, which is locked in a series of proxy wars in Arab countries around the Sunni Muslim kingdom, says that at least 136 Iranians are among the dead, sparking protests and outrage in the Islamic Republic on Friday. [at least 140, from the BBC report's tally of deaths by nationalities.]
Over 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for, including former ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Fars news agency reported.
"We will urge international courts and circles to start the trial of the Saudis for their crimes against haj pilgrims," Iran's Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying by student news agency ISNA on Saturday
"This is not incompetence, it's a crime," Raisi told state broadcaster IRIB.
At the U. N. General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used his address to the summit to demand an investigation into the crush.
Protecting the visitors to mosques at the holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a key pillar of legitimacy for the Saudi royal family, and the king has the title of "custodian of the two holy mosques."
Speaking to the country's crown prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, [most senior] Saudi cleric Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said he did not hold authorities responsible for the disaster.
"You are not responsible for what happened. You dealt with the beneficial factors that were in your hands and within your ability. As for the things that humans cannot control, you cannot blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable," Al al-Sheikh, known as the Grand Mufti, said in a televised statement.
Al al-Sheikh also appeared to deflect criticisms of the kingdom from outside as a product of "envy."
"Many are envious of the kingdom for its religion, leadership, economy and the cohesion of its members, and for the great blessings it has experienced, unlike many other countries," he said.
Boy, is it ever stupid to say in front of a microphone that God loves us more than the other guys.  

As to the cleric's other gem of wisdom, law firms have made fortunes from claims of fate and destiny. The Iranians might not be able to get the Saudi government in the criminal courts, but we'll see what attorneys specializing in mass torts can do with a few facts.

The BBC reports that after Rouhani's speech at the United Nations, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the Saudi government to apologize for the deaths, adding:
"The Islamic world has a lot of questions. The death of more than 1,000 people is not a small issue," he said, citing claims by Iranian officials of a higher death toll [than the official one].
The riposte from Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir:
"I believe that the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty."
As to the Iranian government's claim that 300 Iranians are still missing, that's an eyebrow raiser.  It so happens it's the same number of Iranian pilgrims cited in the Asharq Al-Awsat report as causing the human gridlock on Street 204.   

In any society a mass tragedy can bring forth angry accusations and counter-accusations. Yet an irony is that the Saudi government has taken extraordinary measures to prevent killer stampedes that in earlier years plagued the Hajj, and in particular the stone-throwing ritual. And they've never stopped trying to resolve crowding issues at the Hajj -- part of the reason for their massive construction projects in Mecca, which ironically figured in the crane collapse at the Grand Mosque.

This said, for several years there has been mounting criticism from Muslims about how the Saudis manage the Hajj and their construction projects in and around Mecca, which have leveled hills, displaced thousands of expat workers, obliterated historical sites of importance to Muslims, and generally transformed the sacred city of Mecca into a glitzy tourist spot.

Yet the critics should realize this is a worldwide trend, which I mocked in a recent writing about construction fever in China: once you put 'em through college and they emerge with engineering degrees, then you have to employ them. When the graduates number in the many hundreds of millions, we can see how no piece of open space is safe from building developers. 

By the way, this is just why we need to colonize Mars. Send them there to build, before they put up office towers in the Grand Canyon.

Yet criticism and accusations obscure that the tragedy in Mina is an incredibly pointed metaphor about the state of the Islamic religion -- and that it applies no matter which version of how the stampede happened is correct. Two massive crowds colliding then suffocating and trampling each other to death.     

So the greatest irony about the tragedy is that the Sunni and Shiite leaders squabbling with each other about its cause were oblivious to the big picture it showed.    

Now about that Blood Moon. End-Timers are having a field day speculating about a somewhat rare lunar event -- a red-tinged harvest moon that is also a supermoon going into total eclipse.

There's been so much consternation in some quarters the Mormon Church had to issue a proclamation that the event isn't a sign of the Apocalypse so will everyone please calm down.  But the fact that it's happening at the start of Sukkot, a Jewish thanksgiving holiday, and that it's part of a tetrad that has fallen on other Jewish holy days, has helped fuel fears that the celestial event tonight portends the start of Apocalypse.

The doomsayers tend to ignore that many if not most sacred holidays were set up to happen on full moons, so of course there are bound to be eclipses, blood moons, etc., on those occasions.

But for those who must impart meaning to celestial events, one need look no further than the fact that in the weeks running up to the eclipse of a blood supermoon, unprecedented numbers of Muslims fled to Christendom, and two disasters befell pilgrims to Mecca.  

Short of coshing each of them on the head I don't know what else the Divine can do to send a clearer message to the Mohammedans. God isn't asking you to submit, you fools. He's asking you to change -- or perish.