Archive for August 11th, 2011

August 11, 2011

U.S. Insists: We Killed The Guy That Shot Down Our SEALs


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The U.S. military says they know who shot down a helicopter filled with 38 American and Afghan troops, including 19 Navy SEALs. That man is now dead, killed by a “precision airstrike” from an F-16, according to statement from the American-led coalition in Kabul.

But the military won’t say how they’re so sure that this particular militant was the one responsible for the deadliest incident so far in the Afghan war. The Chinook helicopter took “fire from several insurgent locations on its approach,” the statement notes, and it “has not been determined if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash.”

In a talk with reporters, coalition forces commander Gen. John Allen said he believed that a single rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was likely responsible, but “we don’t know with any certainty what hit the aircraft.” (Some military insiders previously suspected that an improvised rocket was to blame.) Allen added that he wouldn’t know for sure until a full investigation was complete.

On Friday night, U.S. forces — including several Army Rangers — were sent into the Tangi valley, about 50 miles southwest of Kabul, to capture a local Taliban leader.

As the American team moved through the valley, Reuters reports, “they soon saw insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.” A firefight erupted, as the team assaulted what they believed to be the leader’s compound. Some of the insurgents “soon broke away from the main group.” That’s when the team called for reinforcements. In flew the Chinook, loaded with eight Afghans and 30 Americans.


We committed a force to contain that element from getting out. And of course, in the process of that, the aircraft was struck by an RPG and crashed,” Allen said.

The shooter, along with Taliban captain Mullah Mohibullah, “was located after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens. The two men were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture,” the coalition said in its statement. A “security force located and followed the insurgents to a wooded area in Chak district. After ensuring no civilians were in the area, the force called for the airstrike which resulted in the deaths of the Mullah Mohibullah, the shooter, and several of their Taliban associates.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Reuters that the coalition got the wrong guy. “The person who shot down the helicopter is alive,” he claimed.

Allen said that was nonsense. “We tracked them, as we would in the aftermath of any operation, and we dealt with them with a kinetic strike,” he told reporters. “And in the aftermath of that, we have achieved certainty that they in fact were killed in that strike.”

But Allen admitted that the target of the original raid remains at large: “Did we get the leader that we were going after in the initial operation? No, we did not.” Of that, Allen said, he was sure.

Photo: U.S. Army

August 11, 2011

Lao Immigrant Family Learns Son Died in Afghan Helicopter Crash

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Sengchanh Douangdara of South Sioux City holds a portrait of her son, John Douangdara, on Monday. John Douangdara was among U.S. Navy SEALs killed in action Saturday when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. (Journal photo by Tim Gallagher)

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 at 10:20 am UTC

A Lao immigrant family in the United States says one of their members was among the 30 U.S. troops who died last week in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Sengchanh Douangdara has told reporters in Sioux City, Iowa, she was notified of her son’s death by military officials on Saturday.

The son, John Douangdara, 26, was a master at arms in the elite Navy SEALs, where he worked as a dog handler. The mother said she had not known John was part of the Seal unit but that he loved his work and died doing the job he chose.

Sengchanh Douangdara said she immigrated from Laos 31 years ago and has four more children living in the United States. Her oldest child, Chan Follen, said the family is proud John died fighting for the country that embraced the family and gave them the opportunity to pursue the American dream.

Family says Navy SEAL from South Sioux among dead

Associated Press3:05 p.m. CDT, August 8, 2011

A U.S. Navy SEAL from South Sioux City was among the 30 American troops killed when a military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, family members said.

Sengchanh Douangdara told the Sioux City Journal that military officials notified her of her son’s death on Saturday. The newspaper said Monday that Master at Arms, Class 1 John Douangdara, 26, was a lead dog handler for the elite unit.

“I know he loved his job, it was a job he chose,” his mother said.

Douangdara, a 2003 graduate of South Sioux City High School, was aboard a Chinook helicopter that the military said was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in eastern Afghanistan. Twenty-two elite SEAL personnel, Air Force troops, an Army air crew and eight Afghans were killed. Military officials said the troops were on a mission to assist forces pursing a Taliban leader.

“We are proud Johnny fought for the country that embraced our family and gave us the opportunity to reach for the American dream,” said Chan Follen, the oldest of five children in the family, which came to the United States from Laos three decades ago.

There was no answer to a telephone call from The Associated Press to the Douangdara family in South Sioux City on Monday. There was no phone listing for Chan Follen in the area.

At least two troops from Nebraska were killed in the helicopter crash.

The Nebraska National Guard confirmed Monday that Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, 30, of Grand Island, was among the dead. He was a flight engineer with the Army National Guard’s Company B, 2nd Battalion 135th General Support Aviation unit, which is based in Grand Island.

AP-WF-08-08-11 2302GMT

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

South Sioux City, Neb., man among Navy SEALs killed Saturday

SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. — The family of a U.S. Navy SEAL serving in Afghanistan confirmed the death of their son and brother on Saturday in a helicopter crash in Wardak province.

The city is located just across the river from Sioux City, Iowa.

Sengchanh Douangdara, the mother of U.S. Navy SEAL John Douangdara, said military officials approached her home at 10 a.m. Saturday to deliver the news of her son’s death. Master at Arms, Class 1 John Douangdara, 26, was a dog handler for the elite military unit.

The 2003 South Sioux City High School graduate was aboard a Chinook helicopter with 37 others when the aircraft was shot down during an anti-Taliban operation in the Tangi Valley.

Thirty U.S. troops were killed, including nearly two dozen members of the U.S. Navy SEALs. Seven Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter also were killed in the deadliest incident for U.S. forces since the start of the decadelong war.

“I didn’t even know Johnny was a Navy SEAL,” his mother said. “I know that he loved his job, it was a job he chose.”

The family’s sadness was tempered with pride that their brother and son had served his country, a country that welcomed these Laotian immigrants 31 years ago.

“We are proud Johnny fought for the country that embraced our family and gave us the opportunity to reach for the American dream,” said Chan Follen, the oldest of five children in the family.

Sengchanh and Phouthasith Douangdara fled Communist forces in their native Laos in 1979. After the birth of their first child, daughter Chan, they immigrated to the U.S., part of a large contingent of refugees at the time who escaped Laos.

Johnny was born four years later, the third of five children the couple would raise in South Sioux City.

“He was the middle child, very quiet,” sister Chan said. “He loved school activities.”

Johnny was small in stature, growing to only 5 feet, 7 inches. He participated in wrestling in junior high, but not in high school. Mock trial became his favorite activity at South Sioux City High School.

“I hate to say this, but he was a geek,” older brother Pan Douangdara said. “He loved computers.”

He grew to love the military as well, building upon a relationship with a recruiter who began communicating with him in high school. Johnny earned the credits needed to graduate during the fall semester of his senior year at South Sioux City High. He graduated and headed to Basic Training.

“Us older siblings offered to help him pay for college, but he said the military is what he wanted to do,” Chan Follen said.

Even on the drive to Basic Training, Johnny told his older brother that someday he’d be working on a nuclear submarine.

Evidently, his passion for dogs interrupted that career track. When John Douangdara died on Saturday, he reportedly was handling a dog he had trained for work with the Navy SEALs in Afghanistan.

His family didn’t know the specifics of his work or that he was a member of the elite SEALs. When he spoke, he didn’t share information about his work or the missions he completed in five overseas tours.

He was last at home in June to attend the wedding of sister Chan, who exchanged vows at Bev’s on the River, the last wedding before floodwaters struck Sioux City. He spent the week eating barbecue, swimming and partying with family members.

“It was a celebration, both for my wedding and for Johnny being back home,” Chan said.

The last time he’d had such an extended stay with family occurred in 2009, when the family traveled back to Laos. Johnny paid for his trip and his mother’s. The trip gave him a chance to spend time with his grandfather, Bo Khomvouttavong, who served as a captain in the Royal Laos Army more than three decades ago.

Upon learning of his death, the family erected a memorial in their living room on East 15th Street in South Sioux City. The modest split level home now features a candle that has burned since Saturday morning. The candle is surrounded by fresh flowers, fresh fruit, pictures of Johnny and food that is changed three times per day. The memorial follows Buddhist religious traditions involving the recently deceased.

The candle will remain lit until John Douangdara’s remains are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Chan Follen said the funeral will take place sometime within the next two weeks.

A U.S. flag moved in the breeze Monday as family members shared their memories. None shed a tear during an hourlong interview.

“I don’t think my brother would call himself a hero,” Chan Follen said. “He was doing his job, doing what he believed in. But in our hearts, he’ll always be our hero.”

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved.

Laotian American family grieves son’s sacrifice as a Navy SEAL

The Douangdara family mourns the loss of their Laotian American son, John Douangdara, who died last weekend in Wardak province, Afghanistan after insurgents shot down a Chinook Helicopter transporting thirty US troops to a rescue mission.
August 11, 2011








‘Loophole’ defies the spirit of big cat conservation pledge


LONDON: Despite Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s promise to the world that his country would “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”, China appears to have quietly reopened the trade in tiger and leopard skins.

Ahead of next week’s meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee in Geneva, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has directly contacted participants – including those from the UK, the USA and all tiger and Asian leopard range countries – to urge them to challenge China on the issue.

Although previously committing to end trade in the parts of Asia’s big cats, it appears China has resumed trade in tiger and leopard skins via the implementation of its 2007 Skin Registration Scheme.

The Scheme allows for tiger and leopard skins from ‘legal origins’, including those from captive-bred big cats, to be registered, labelled and sold; EIA believes this provides the perfect cover for illegal skins to be laundered and seriously undermines China’s promise to last November’s International Tiger Summit in St Petersburg by re-opening trade at a time when the rest of the world is seeking to end it.

And EIA has already discovered several examples of skins for sale online, which appear to have formal permits.

“Parties to CITES may feel they’ve been misled as a result of China’s tactics,” said EIA Tiger Campaign Head Debbie Banks. “What they’ve failed to grasp is that despite committing to the domestic trade ban on tiger bone, China has refused to make the same commitment over skins or answer questions about how many skins are being traded, but the system is there.

“The Skin Registration Scheme is going in totally the wrong direction. It’s doing nothing to actually help tiger and leopard conservation, instead providing a cover for illegal trade and creating a confused consumer market.”

By permitting the Skin Registration Scheme to go ahead, China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) appears to making a complete mockery of Premier Wen Jiabao’s pledge regarding tiger conservation. In May, EIA wrote to him directly to alert him to this situation but has yet to receive a reply.

“China is one of the world’s leading economies and is always insisting it doesn’t need outside help to protect wildlife and stop illegal trade,” added Banks. “There can be no more excuses; it has had ample time to strengthen its laws and invest in enforcement operations which target the criminals controlling the trade. If it really wanted to end the trade and save tigers and leopards in the wild, there is a lot more it could do.”



1. Parties to CITES Standing Committee in Geneva should seek clarification from China about the status of the registration and domestic sale of the skins of tigers and other Asian big cats;

2. China should formally ban all trade in all parts and derivatives of Appendix I Asian big cats from all sources – tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards and Asiatic lions;

3. China should ensure its enforcement is far more specialised and focused than at present, moving beyond border seizures to target the domestic criminals responsible.

Interviews are available on request: please contact EIA Tiger Campaign Head Debbie Banks at or telephone 020 7354 7960.


1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.

2. The EIA report Enforcement not Extinction: Zero Tolerance on Tiger Trade outlines EIA’s recommendations for urgent actions to reverse the tiger’s decline

3. EIA has written to China seeking clarification over the 2007 Skin Registration Scheme and raised questions about it from the floor at UN meetings, but China has failed to respond.

4. The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg in November 2010 resulted in the adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) and the goal of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022

5. During a GTRP Implementation meeting in March 2011, China admitted to its reliance on NGO information to assess the status of trade, interpreting an absence of such information from NGOs to mean trade had been deterred.

Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960
Fax: +44 207 354 7961

August 11, 2011

Conservationists: Work underway on controversial Mekong River dam

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By Miranda Leitsinger, Senior Writer and Editor,
August 5th, 2011

Johan Frijns / International Rivers

A July 23 visit to the site of the proposed Xayaburi Dam has revealed that construction on the dam’s access road and work camp is forging ahead despite an agreement by the four lower Mekong countries to defer a decision on the project earlier this year.

Conservationists say work on a controversial hydropower dam on the Mekong River is underway in Laos even though that Southeast Asian nation had deferred a decision on whether the project should go ahead in face of strong opposition from neighboring countries earlier this year.

Construction on the Xayaburi Dam’s access road and work camp is moving ahead, International Rivers, which campaigns to protect rivers, said in a statement about a visit to the site made on July 23 by a researcher unaffiliated with their group who wished to remain anonymous. Some land has been cleared, but the owners had not received compensation, International Rivers said.

The Bangkok Post on Sunday reported that their correspondents in early April had “found major road works under construction” in the area surrounding the proposed dam and “villagers preparing to be relocated” — with some told they would get about $15 in compensation. International Rivers believe the work in late July was a continuation of that process, said Aviva Imhof, the California-based group’s campaigns director.

“By building this dam, Laos is disregarding its regional commitments and robbing the future of millions of people in the region who rely upon the river for their livelihood and food security,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers.

The dam — the first of 11 proposed in the waterway’s lower basin — would generate 1,260 megawatts of electricity, mostly for export to Thailand, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) — created by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in 1995 to oversee sustainable development along the waterway.

Laos proposed building the dam in September 2010, the main goal being to generate “foreign exchange earnings for financing socio-economic development in Lao PDR,” according to the river commission.

Under earlier agreements, Laos has the right to proceed on its own without approval of the other three nations. But Laos’ choice in late April to defer a decision appeared to indicate that the desperately poor country wants its neighbors’ support, especially that of Vietnam, which is a major trading partner and political patron.

Conservationists warn that the dam could significantly reduce the critical fish stock in the Mekong, the world’s most productive inland fishery.

The 3,000-mile river, which winds from China’s Tibetan Plateau through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is home to nearly 1,000 freshwater fish species — including more species of giant fish, such as the Mekong giant catfish and the dog-eating catfish, than any other river. It provides a total harvest of about 2.5 million metric tons a year worth up to $6.5 billion, according to fish biologist Zeb Hogan, a research professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has studied the river for 15 years.

About two-thirds of the population of the lower Mekong Basin — or 40 million people — are involved in the Mekong’s fishery at least part-time or seasonally, the MRC said.

At the MRC meeting in late April, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam raised concerns about “gaps in technical knowledge and studies about the project, predicted impact on the environment and livelihoods of people in the Mekong Basin and the need for more public consultations,” the commission said in a statement.

Vietnam proposed that this project — and other hydropower projects planned for the Mekong mainstream — be delayed for at least 10 years.

“The deferment should be positively seen as a way to provide much-needed time for riparian governments to carry out comprehensive and more specific quantitative studies on all possible cumulative impacts,” Le Duc Trung, head of Vietnam’s delegation, said in the MRC statement.

Laos disagreed, saying it was not practical to extend the process and argued that the dam would not have a negative environmental impact on its neighbors.

The four countries were to meet in Phnom Penh on Friday to discuss the next steps in the decision-making process for the dam, but the meeting was postponed indefinitely on Tuesday, International Rivers said.

The Laos-based MRC did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the ongoing construction and the postponed meeting was not immediately responded to. In late June, an MRC spokesman, Surasak Glahan, said that Laos had engaged consultants to conduct studies to address concerns raised by Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand about the dam.

August 11, 2011

Report from the Field: A Visit to the Xayaburi Dam Site

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Wed, 08/03/2011 – 11:24am

This is a guest blog by a researcher who visited the Xayaburi Dam site and whose name must remain anonymous for security reasons.

Leaving from Vientiane it takes 9 hours by car to reach a junction 30 km south of Luang Prabang. From there a slippery dirt road leads to Ban Pak Khon village. We take the ferry to cross the Mekong River and reach Ban Tha Dua village. Here we meet up with villagers who will have to resettle due to flooding if the Xayaburi Dam is completed. For a small fee they agree to bring us 20 km downstream to Ban Houay Souy village right next to the construction site of the dam. We’ve come to find out what is happening here after the MRC member countries put construction of the dam on hold in late May.

After heavy rainfalls in the region, the Mekong is a turbulent brown stream carrying lots of branches and entire trees. The boatman navigates down the river trying to avoid trees, rocks and other turbulence as much as possible. After about 40 minutes we see a road cut into the steep mountains on the right side of the river. Plenty of construction trucks and pick-up trucks are driving on it in both directions. We are told that this road leads to the construction site of the dam. Beside the road are transmission towers without cables on them. Several diggers are working on the road as we continue downstream. We ask whether it is possible to travel that road by car, but are told that it is closed to the public. A couple of kilometers downstream the road opens up into a larger space with several barracks on it. We’re told they will house workers who are working on the dam in the future. Shortly after, half a hillside has been cleared of vegetation as the road winds its way down to the river. Stones are piled up on the riverbank but nobody appears to be working there. Right next to the site is Ban Houay Souy village.

A couple of villagers sit underneath a tree overlooking the river. As we sat down with them to talk they told us the following:

“In February, government officials came to our village to tell us we should stop farming. We would be resettled to a place near Xayaburi town soon. The new land we are supposed to get is 20 x 30 meter lots, so we will not have any land to farm on. They promised us jobs but we are farmers so we only know how to farm.”

They went on to say that in late May government officials came to their village again announcing that they could now start farming, contradicting their earlier saying.

“But by then it was too late to work the fields since the rains had already started,” a villager says. “The (Thai) company (who is in charge of the construction work) has also destroyed some of our farmland,” he adds. “They evaluated the damage that they did and promised us compensation but they haven’t paid us yet and a lot of time has already passed” an elderly woman says. “Now we are afraid we won’t have enough rice to eat in the near future. We don’t know what to do.”

The villagers tell us that they don’t want to leave their homes but are afraid of the government if they don’t follow the orders given to them.

We asked them if they have heard that the construction of the Xayaburi Dam was put on a one-year hold after neighboring countries agreed to conduct further impact studies.

They tell us that they didn’t know about this. “The construction has never stopped or even slowed down” several villagers say. “They are still building roads and barracks for staff and drilling for rock and soil samples.”

We decide to hike up to the road to get a glimpse of the construction site. On the little path that leads us up to the road we see a hole in the ground about two meters deep. There is a sheet of paper attached to a tree next to it indicating it was dug for ground research purposes. The paper is dated July 13, 2011.

Most villagers seem hopeless and afraid except for chief of the village. He lives in the biggest house and invites us inside. He confirms what his fellow villagers told us about the construction which hasn’t slowed down in any way.

On the way back we stop at two more villages upstream. A few days earlier officials and technicians had visited their village to inform them about their moving conditions. The villagers tell us that two villages will merge with a third one, which is high enough on a hill so it won’t be flooded. Overall the people in these villages seem less worried about their future. They say that they will also lose farmland but the government has promised them jobs. Though they don’t know what jobs those could be. One villager says that he’ll be happy if he gets what the government has promised him but that he sees problems coming if they can’t keep their promises.

In Ban Houay Hip village, where the other two villages will be moving, an old villager tells us that he doesn’t see any problem with over 50 new families resettling to his village. “We will keep our farmland and their houses will be built up on the hill, so we can still have enough space.”

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