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The Defense Edge

Lawmakers to Grill Pentagon on Deadly Attack that Killed 30 Americans

February 22nd 2014

Seal Team 6

A congressional panel on Thursday will hold a hearing on a mysterious helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team 6 unit.

Many questions about the Aug. 6, 2011 attack, which killed 30 Americans, will be asked during the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who heads the panel, told The Hill that the hearing is aimed at getting answers from the Pentagon and "honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice." The 30 Americans were killed three months after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Team 6 forces. The timing has sparked speculation that the attack was payback for the bin Laden raid. Read more ..

Somalia on Edge

Somali President Unharmed in Palace Attack, Killing 17

February 21st 2014

Somali Militants2

Al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia launched a major attack Friday on the presidential palace in Mogadishu, killing at least 17, including a senior official.  But the country's president escaped unharmed.

Witnesses say the attackers stormed the gates of the presidential palace, known as Villa Somalia, around the time of Friday prayers and tried to force their way inside the compound.

Security officials say the assailants wore military uniforms to gain access.  The chief of staff to Somalia's prime minister was among those killed. The al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility.

United Nations envoy to Somalia, Nick Kay, speaking  from London, said he received a phone call from Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud shortly after the attack.

“The president told me of two vehicle bombs exploding outside the rear gate, one shortly after the other, and then armed attackers entering, trying to enter the Villa Somalia complex, possibly up to about 15 or so armed attackers.” Kay added that the president sounded "very calm and very composed." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Pentagon to Share Electromagnetic Spectrum

February 20th 2014

The Pentagon

Pentagon officials are forging a long-term plan to secure military access to enough of the electromagnetic spectrum to accomplish its missions amid growing federal and commercial use.

“Department of Defense air, land, maritime, space and cyberspace operations are fundamentally and increasingly dependent on electromagnetic spectrum,” Teri Takai, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, said at a Pentagon briefing Thursday.

For example, when military pilots train within the U.S., they need a certain amount of electromagnetic spectrum, and if it is not available, training will have to be curtailed, Takai said.

“We are very heavily spectrum dependent in order to be able to do that training. If in fact we are in an environment where we have interference in the spectrum that we use, we either have to limit the amount of training or, in fact, we can have instances where we'll have interference during the time that that training's taking place,” she said. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Abduction Of Woman Puts Afghan Police In Spotlight

February 19th 2014

Afgan Police

For Afghan police, fending off the Taliban is only half the battle. The much-maligned local and national police forces are also fighting to win hearts and minds and to shed their reputations for thuggery.

That mission took yet another hit this week when a group of Afghan National Police (ANP) officers allegedly abducted a female nurse in Nuristan Province, a remote and volatile region along Afghanistan's northeastern border with Pakistan.

Ten ANP officers allegedly stormed a local health clinic in the province's Want district in the early hours of February 17 and whisked Zubaida (who goes by one name) away in front of her colleagues. Hours later, the nurse was rescued by a group of armed villagers and a second group of ANP officers following a brief shoot-out. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Gaza Strip Welcomes New Al-Qaeda Terrorists: DAESH

February 18th 2014

It's official: Al-Qaeda has begun operating in the Gaza Strip.

A video posted on YouTube recently showed terrorists belonging to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known colloquially by its Arabic acronym, DAESH, announcing plans to wage jihad [holy war] against the "infidels, traitors and Crusaders."

This is the first time that a group linked to Al-Qaeda announces its presence in the Gaza Strip.

The announcement is seen as a challenge to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has been in control of the Gaza Strip since July 2007.

Palestinian Authority security officials in Ramallah expressed fear that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group would try to establish terrorist cells also in the West Bank. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

4 Killed in Blast on Egypt Tour Bus

February 16th 2014

Destroyed Bus

An explosion has hit a tourist bus at Egypt's Taba border crossing with Israel, killing at least three South Korean travelers and the Egyptian bus driver.  There has been no immediate claim of responsibility.  

The blast ripped through the bus, blowing out windows and part of the roof.  Initial reports indicate a bomb had been planted on or near the bus. South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda said all the details were not immediately clear.

He said the Korean tourists had traveled from the popular tourist site of St. Catherine's at the base of Mount Sinai. They were waiting to transfer at the Israeli border when the blast went off. Officials on both sides immediately closed the border crossing. Egyptian officials have condemned the attack. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

ECR Hearing Hears How Public Money Is Fanning Terror in Israel

February 15th 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

A hearing organised by ECR MEP Michal Kaminski today heard how a number of charitable organisations funded by public money are financing the flames that make peace in Israel more difficult. 

The event’s guest speaker was Edwin Black, the American syndicated columnist who specialises in human rights and the interplay between economics and politics in the Middle East.  Black presented his latest book on the subject, which shows how, instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.

Michal Kaminski said after the event: “This was a particularly interesting hearing. Edwin Black showed how the West is funding organisations whose activities are very different from those they state. Not a single penny, grosz or cent of our money should be handed over to any organisations that propogate terror or conflict in the Middle East, or threaten the security of Israel. Read more ..

The Cyber Threat

Cybersecurity: America’s Achilles’ Heel

February 14th 2014

Minneapolis skyline

The Cybersecurity Framework, which was announced on February 12, 2014, by President Obama, has very little new to offer to the private sector. It’s only a guide to how everyone should be conceptualizing and communicating about cybersecurity concerns.

The report comes a year after the president first announced his Executive Order on “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” in his 2013 State of the Union address.

This framework is said to increase the cooperation between the government and the private sector. However, it fails to take the overall responsibility for addressing the vulnerabilities of the U.S. national security and economy to cybercrime, cybermanipulation of markets, denials of service, and theft of intellectual property. Read more ..

The US and Afghanistan

Afghanistan Releases 'Dangerous' Detainees

February 13th 2014

Taliban soldiers

Afghanistan has released a group what U.S. forces have described as “dangerous” prisoners from a maximum security prison. That move is likely to further erode relations between the two countries.

U.S. forces describe the 65 detainees released from Bagram prison as “dangerous individuals” who have killed Afghan men, women and children, as well as coalition soldiers.

In a strongly worded statement, U.S. Forces - Afghanistan said both American and Afghan forces had risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people, and called upon the government to consider the potentially lethal effects of the releases. Speaking while on a visit to Turkey, Afghan President Hamid Karzai defended the move. He said the prisoners’ cases had been investigated and the decision made to free them.

“Afghanistan is a sovereign country. If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release a prisoner it is of no concern to the U.S. and should be of no concern to the U.S.," said Karzai. "And I hope that the U.S. will stop harassing Afghanistan’s procedures and judicial authority and I hope that the United States will now begin to respect Afghan sovereignty.” Read more ..

Uganda on Edge

Uganda Police on ‘High Alert’ after Terror Threat Warning

February 12th 2014

US advisors with Ugandan officers and troops

Uganda police “swung into action” and have placed security officers on high alert after the US embassy in the country warned of a planned terrorist attack in the capital, Kampala, according to Judith Nabakooba, Uganda Police’s national spokesperson.

In a message released late Monday, the embassy said it has received information that “a group of attackers is possibly in place and ready to strike targets inside Kampala in February or March.” It said “There are indications that the Ugandan National Museum is one of the potential targets.” Nabakooba says the police are working with other security agencies as well as private security groups to thwart any possible terror attack.

“Our officers especially in the Kampala metropolitan area have strengthened their security and also their alertness in their respective areas of their operation,” said Nabakooba. “We have intensified our operations and our deployment in most of the key areas, especially where people normally gather. The police are now charged with a duty of patrolling around, but also doing routine checks in their respective areas.”                                                         Read more ..

The US and Iraq

US Will Step Up Training for Iraq Forces

February 11th 2014

Iraqi Forces

The United States is planning to step up training for Iraq forces as it battles a resurgent al Qaeda in the country, a U.S. official said Tuesday at a congressional hearing.

Ambassador Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of State for near eastern affairs, said that the U.S. has been a reliable partner with allies in the region, despite criticism that the U.S. has lost credibility in the region.

For example, in the face of a growing al Qaeda presence in the country, Patterson said the U.S. has provided Iraq with hellfire missiles, surveillance drones, and has recently approved the sale of attack helicopters.

“We have also tried to step up training. We’re planning to step up training. We have an enormous foreign military sales and foreign military financing program with Iraq,” Patterson said.

Although Patterson did not specify what kind of training it was, U.S. contractors have typically provided training for Iraqi forces as part of a foreign military sales program under the State Department. Read more ..

The Edge of Counter-Terrorism

Administration Weighs Drone Strike Against Amereican Citizen

February 10th 2014

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

The Obama administration is considering lethal force against an American citizen overseas who has allegedly been working with al Qaeda, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.

In order for the U.S. to launch a drone strike, the Justice Department must first build a case against the man, the AP reports.

Two officials told the AP the man, who is not being identified, has been responsible for coordinating attacks against Americans overseas, and he continues to plan more.

Under President Obama’s stricter drone policy, the CIA wouldn’t be able to launch the attack because the man is a U.S. citizen. The Defense Department is the only U.S. agency that can sign off on such drone strikes. The White House refused to comment on the potential operation on Monday, with press secretary Jay Carney saying he "would not discuss particular targets that may or may not be under consideration." Read more ..

The Olympic Edge

Sochi Security 'Unparalleled'

February 9th 2014

Sochi 2014 Olympic games torch

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Sunday praised Russian physical security and counterterrorism efforts at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but warned that terror threats remain.

“The guards, gates and guns portion of this is really unparalleled for an Olympic games,” the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“The other part that I think they've done well is aggressive counterterrorism operations,” he added. “They are aggressively pursuing leads that they have, some include kicking in doors and taking people down in the way that they did in Dagestan. That is a preemptive counterterrorism strike to try to secure the games.” “Though one last weakness -- and this was the tension between Russia and the United States, was that internal sharing of intelligence that we believe would be important,” he said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

AIPAC Breaks with GOP over Iran Sanctions

February 8th 2014

America's main pro-Israel lobby came out against an immediate vote on Iran sanctions Thursday, just hours after 42 Republican senators demanded a vote.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued its statement after the bill's author, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), took to the Senate floor and obliquely criticized the GOP push. “We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support,” AIPAC said in an emailed statement, “and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”

An AIPAC official confirmed the email's validity and said the organization has never pushed for an immediate vote.

“We have not and are not calling for [an] immediate vote,” the official told The Hill. Read more ..

Broken Intellgence

Jail Time for Contractor in Fox News Leak Case

February 7th 2014

jail door closeup

A former State Department contractor accused of leaking classified information to Fox News pleaded guilty Friday to a single count as part of a plea deal with the government.

Stephen Kim was accused of leaking a CIA analysis about North Korea to Fox News reporter James Rosen. The analysis detailed warnings from intelligence officials that North Korea would likely respond to increased sanctions with nuclear tests.

If a judge approves the plea deal, Kim will be sentenced on April 2. He is facing 13 months in prison and a year of supervised release under the plea deal. Kim was indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act and had faced 15 years in prison if convicted.

It was subsequently revealed that during the investigation into Kim’s leak, the Justice Department monitored Rosen as well and classified him as a co-conspirator in order to obtain a search warrant for him. Read more ..

France on Edge

French Nationalists Confuse Islamism with U.S. Foreign Policy Goals

February 6th 2014

Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National (FN), the most likely winner of the upcoming municipal and European elections in France, held a press conference on January 22, in which she presented the foreign policy of her party, including a passionate plea for France to break off its relations with Saudi Arabia and ally itself to Iran.

Sitting next to her foreign policy advisor Aymeric Chauprade, Le Pen advocated that France should sever its links with Saudi Arabia, "America's best ally" and a "dangerous country ruled by extremist clans, who, since the origin of Wahhabism, have but one goal: to dominate global Islam and turn it into jihad against all other civilizations."

Marine Le Pen is apparently of the idea that the world is currently under threat from two evil types of global imperialism trying to subjugate France: American "euro-mondialism" and Islamism. In Le Pen's view, both the Americans (with the European Union as an American tool) and the Islamists want to dominate the world and destroy France's sovereignty and identity. Read more ..

US and Afghanistan

Secret Afghan Talks Frustrate US Officials

February 4th 2014


Reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been holding secret peace talks with Taliban officials led to high-level meetings in Washington Tuesday.  U.S. officials are again calling on the Afghan leader to sign an agreement to allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year.

President Barack Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military commanders at the White House Tuesday. They were expected to discuss a report, in The New York Times, that Karzai met with Taliban officials in Dubai three weeks ago, without consulting the United States.

The Pentagon is not confirming the reports, according to Defense Department spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren.

“We've long said that the path to peace here is political and diplomatic and not military and I believe that we've long said that Afghans speaking to Afghans are what's going to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said. The Senate Armed Services Committee also met Tuesday, behind closed doors, to discuss the issue. 

Republican Senator John McCain said the Obama administration's announcement that it would conclude the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year was likely a factor in Karzai's reported decision to negotiate with the Taliban.  McCain said he had been told that the White House was considering withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2017, when Obama leaves office.   Read more ..

The Edge of Cyber Security

Lockheed Martin, EMC to Set Up Cyber Security Center in Israel

February 3rd 2014

Shadowy Computer User

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the establishment of a national cyber park in Beersheva to be called Cyber Spark.

US aerospace company Lockheed Martin and EMC Corporation today (Jan. 27, 2014) signed an agreement to jointly invest in advanced technology projects in cloud computing, data analytics and cyber technology. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blessed the new plan at an official launch ceremony at the CyberTech 2014 International Exhibition and Conference in Tel Aviv.

The new Lockheed Martin-EMC center will be based in the Advanced Technologies Park in Beersheva. Under the arrangement, Lockheed Martin and EMC will identify a series of development opportunities that can be contracted to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and other subject matter experts. Read more ..

The Afghan War

U.S. Literacy Program for Afahan Military Comes Up Short

February 2nd 2014

Afgan Troops

The Defense Department has long maintained that teaching Afghan soldiers and police how to read and write is a steppingstone to their success on the battlefield against the Taliban and other insurgent forces, particularly after the U.S. Army and its coalition partners withdraw. But the effort has not been going so well, an independent government auditor reported on Jan. 28.

 “We probably won't be able to go forward in some of our … objectives if we don't increase literacy,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Putt, director of the U.S.-led military coalition's training program for Afghan security forces told reporters spiritedly at the Pentagon in Aug. 2012.

But as of Feb. 2013, roughly half the Afghan forces were still illiterate, despite the Pentagon’s expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars on a literacy program there, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko, an independent auditor. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Mushrooming Citizen Patrols In Ukraine Raise Fear Of More Violence, Divisions

January 31st 2014

Protest in Ukraine

As Ukraine's civil unrest spreads across Ukraine, with antigovernment protesters laying siege to official buildings in a dozen cities, jittery citizens are taking security into their own hands.

Self-defense groups are hastily being formed in the Russian-speaking east, President Viktor Yanukovych's traditional power base, to bar protesters from seizing control of local administrations.

In the European-leaning, western part of Ukraine, local residents supporting Kyiv's Euromaidan protests are also conducting patrols and guarding government buildings seized by demonstrators last week. But there are fears that the mushrooming of rival vigilante groups, instead of bringing order back to the streets, will only fuel violence and divisions. Read more ..

C.A.R. on Edge

C.A.R. New Government, a ‘Legitimate Partner’ to Security Improvement

January 30th 2014

African Rebels and Guns

The formation of a new transitional government is being welcomed as “a legitimate partner” for the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), in a bid to stabilize the security situation, says Eloi Yao, an African Union spokesman.

His comments came after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in C.A.R.

Yao says troops from the African-led force are implementing security measures to create an environment to enable humanitarian groups to provide much needed assistance to unarmed civilians displaced by the conflict.

“With this government that is a legitimate government, they will help MISCA to have partners that can talk to directly so that the MISCA can implement its mandate, and engage in regular dialogue with the members of the government,” said Yao. He says next week Rwanda will complete the deployment of the rest of its troops to help with MISCA’s stabilization efforts. Yao says the deployment of the Rwandan troops has been a significant boost to MISCA’s objectives. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Inside Story of IDF's Hospital That Saves Syrians

January 29th 2014

IDF Hospital

For the past three years a brutal civil war has been waged in Syria. The main victims of this internal conflict are the Syrian civilians themselves. According to the United Nations, at least 120,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting over the past three years. Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, over 300 Syrians have been treated in hospitals throughout Israel.

Last year, the IDF set up a field hospital to treat wounded Syrian civilians near the northern border, treating over 500 Syrian nationals.
Regardless of the tense relations between Israel and Syria, who are still officially at war, IDF soldiers have continued to apply a core Jewish value: “He who saves one life, saves the whole of humanity.”

On February 16, 2013, seven wounded civilians from Syria approached Israel’s border in urgent need of help. Colonel Tariff Bader, a Druze officer, heads an Israeli field hospital near the border. He began his IDF service in 1993, and after completing his medical studies, rose through the IDF’s ranks to become a senior medical officer in the IDF’s Northern Command. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War

January 28th 2014

Syrian Jihadis

International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria's three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Ali Haidar, an old classmate of al Assad's from ophthalmology school and a long-standing member of Syria's loyal opposition, now serving somewhat fittingly as Syria's National Reconciliation Minister, captured the mood of the days leading up to the conference in saying "Don't expect anything from Geneva II. Neither Geneva II, not Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

US Condemns Afghan Order to Free 37 Prisoners

January 27th 2014


The U.S. military in Afghanistan is condemning an Afghan government order to release 37 prisoners from Bagram prison, saying they pose a threat to security; there are signs of worsening relations between Washington and Kabul.

A special Afghan government panel called the Afghan Review Board, or ARB, recently announced it had evaluated the cases of 88 suspected Taliban fighters being held at an Afghan-supervised detention facility on the U.S.-run Bagram airfield north of Kabul.  It said 37 of the inmates are innocent. The board also said there is insufficient evidence against most of the remaining prisoners.

Monday, the U.S. military said it had learned that the review board has ordered the release of 37 of the 88 individuals.

In a statement U.S. officials described those being released as “dangerous individuals” and insisted they are legitimate threats to security. A spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul, Lt. Col. Will Griffin, said there is strong evidence supporting prosecution or further investigation.  

“The ARB is releasing back to society dangerous insurgents who have Afghan blood on their hands. The 37 being released include 17 who are linked to the production of attacks using improvised explosive devices; three who participated in or had knowledge of direct attacks wounding or killing 11 ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) members; and four who participated in and or had knowledge of direct attacks wounding or killing 42 US or Coalition Force members,” warned Griffin. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Catapults And Forced Strips: How Ukrainian Police, Protesters Are Doing Battle

January 26th 2014

A standoff between riot police and protesters has persisted in downtown Kyiv since January 19, and the scene has sometimes turned violent. At least two protesters have died from gunshot wounds and over 100 riot policemen have been injured, according to the Interior Ministry.

While thousands have been gathering peacefully on a nightly basis in Independence Square -- the sight of a pro-European encampment that is now two months old -- more radical protesters have taken up positions on Hrushevskyy street, 1,500 meters away.

Mysterious Bullets

When the violence started following mass protests on January 19, police could be seen firing what appeared to be rubber bullets. But by early morning on January 22, at least two protesters had been shot dead, and some were accusing police of using far more powerful rounds. Christopher MIller, an editor at the "Kyiv Post" said he saw a protester get hit with a bullet said to resemble ammunition used for hunting. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Elements of a Proposed Solution to the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

January 24th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

This report discusses the necessary provisions of a comprehensive solution regarding Iran’s nuclear program that the P5+1 and Iran will seek to conclude over the coming months as outlined in the Joint Plan of Action. In particular, this discussion seeks to define Iran’s enrichment and heavy water reactor programs and their associated parameters, and the duration of long-term provisions.

The provisions discussed in this report require intrusive verification of Iran’s nuclear program aimed at ensuring that Iran’s declarations are correct and complete and developing confidence in the absence of undeclared nuclear facilities and materials. The latter condition must include sufficient verification measures to detect the construction and operation of secret gas centrifuge plants, a daunting task in the best of circumstances. This report does not address in detail the necessary verification steps; those steps will be the subject of subsequent ISIS workshops and reports. Read more ..

Olympics on Edge

Security Concerns Mount As Sochi Olympic Opening Nears

January 23rd 2014

Sochi 2014 Olympic games torch

Security forces in the Black Sea Russian city of Sochi are looking for a woman from the North Caucasus whom they believe might be planning a terrorist attack during next month's winter Olympic games.

Officials are distributing photos of 22-year-old Ruzanna Ibragimova, reportedly the widow of an alleged North Caucasus militant, who is believed to be somewhere inside the Sochi security zone that was established on January 7. According to some media reports, officials may be looking for as many as four suspects.

The alerts about Ibragimova are just the latest alarm bells ringing as Russia prepares to welcome the world to President Vladimir Putin's signature event in an area just a few hundred kilometers from the most volatile part of the Russian Federation -- the North Caucasus. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Car Bomb Kills 4 in Beirut Hezbollah Stronghold

January 22nd 2014

Car Bomb

 Lebanon's National News Agency says that four people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle he was driving on a busy thoroughfare in Beirut's mostly Shi'ite southern suburbs. It was the fourth major explosion in the area, where influence is held by the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

A security camera on a building not far from the explosion showed a four-wheel drive vehicle blowing up amid traffic in the busy Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik. It was the fourth explosion to hit Beirut's mostly Shi'ite southern district in recent months.

Gunfire erupted briefly, as rescue workers tried to evacuate victims of the blast from damaged residential buildings and gutted vehicles. Casualties were taken to nearby hospitals as security forces combed the area for details of the bombing. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Disturbing Trends Among the 'Anti-Normalization' Crowd in Palestine

January 21st 2014

Click to select Image

"Normalization [with Israel] is an act of treason." — Large poster outside Ramallah peace conference.

If Israelis and Palestinians are unable even to talk about peace, what would happen if and when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with Israel? Might he, too, find himself being escorted out of Ramallah under police protection for daring to talk peace with Israel?

Israeli peace activists who arrived in Ramallah recently were forced to leave the city under Palestinian Authority [PA] police protection.

The activists were escorted out of Ramallah in police vans after Palestinian protesters attacked the hotel where a "peace conference" between Israelis and Palestinians was taking place. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Previewing the Next Pentagon Budget

January 20th 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

Congress has provided a "sneak peek" at the forthcoming defense budget request by President Obama coming sometime in the next six weeks or so. While congressional appropriators were in the driver's seat in determining where the roughly $30 billion in defense cuts took place in the 2014 budget bill, staff worked closely with Pentagon officials so as not to diverge too wildly with where the 2015 budget is headed.

Pentagon leaders will continue to try to protect their largest programs as much as possible. That does not mean they will escape cuts, however. One notable trend from the past two budget years that will continue is that major programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will continue to absorb reductions but ultimately muddle along. Lawmakers cut over a half-billion dollars from the program and shrunk advance dollars for three aircraft in 2014. But Congress and the Pentagon are unlikely to make large-scale adjustments to the F-35 program as it marches toward initial operating capability. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Attacks Near Border Spark Fear in Cameroon

January 19th 2014

Boko Haram

Border villages in Cameroon's north have been deserted following heavy fighting between the Nigerian army and the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Banki, Borno state. About 30 Cameroonians and Nigerians are said to have been wounded in the attacks, and five are feared dead.

The heavy firing between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram created panic in Cameroonian border villages, especially Amchide.

Residents there said the Nigerian troops fired heavily and indiscriminately at fleeing militants. Businessman Halidou Alirou told VOA the shooting created panic. Many people fled the area and Alirou said he got separated from his wife. He recalled that the firing was so heavy, many in the vicinity were forced to escape to the nearby wilderness. Many may not soon return, and an atmosphere of panic persists. The Nigerian army used both its infantry and air force in the attack. Resident Ayang Kaina said some Nigerians who were escaping from the crackdown are among the wounded. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban's Kabul Attack Kills 21, Heightens Security Concerns

January 18th 2014

Bomb explosion

The death toll from a Taliban attack on a restaurant in Afghanistan's capital has risen to 21. A suicide bomber who blew himself up and Taliban gunmen who rushed in behind him to shoot the survivors killed 13 foreigners, including U.N. employees, Americans and other Westerners.

The attack is seen as a critical blow to Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts, and it has raised serious concerns ahead of the political security transition that is due to begin in Afghanistan in April.

Authorities in Kabul say that investigations are under way to determine circumstances that led to what is being condemned as the deadliest assault on foreign civilians in Afghanistan since the start of U.S.-led military campaign (in 2001).

In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack, calling it senseless violence. A written statement said terrorists continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for life and a prosperous future Afghans are working hard to achieve. The message said the U.S. remains committed to peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Proposes Limits on NSA Data Collection

January 17th 2014

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Barack Obama unveiled reforms Friday in the vast surveillance being conducted by the country's clandestine National Security Agency.

Aiming to calm uproar over NSA telecommunications surveillance, Obama outlined plans to end government control of an enormous cache of bulk phone records about calls made by Americans and foreigners, and also announced steps to reassure foreign leaders about U.S. surveillance tactics.

In the highly anticipated Justice Department speech, which follows months of review by a special panel in the wake of damaging disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the president also said government access and search of any data held by telecommunications companies will require advance approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Read more ..

The US and Afghanistan

U.S. Eases Pressure To Keep Afghan Security Pact Hopes Alive

January 17th 2014

Taliban soldiers

After warning of imminent deadlines for Afghanistan to back a security deal or face a future without Western military help, Washington has recently taken a lower-key approach more likely to bridge remaining differences in the coming months, U.S. officials and outside experts say.

"The efforts to be as quiet as possible are calculated because I think to the extent we talk publically it just makes it harder to get to a deal privately," a U.S. diplomat involved in the issue says privately. "There is not a completely unified view, other than doing this completely in public doesn't help, only makes it much harder to get to an agreement."

Washington pushed hard to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by the end of 2013. Yet the Afghan leader has insisted he would sign the agreement only if the United States met his conditions, including an end to raids on Afghan homes and help with peace reconciliation. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Surveillance Speech Faces High Expectations

January 16th 2014

Barack Obama in Thought

President Barack Obama Friday will announce decisions about intelligence surveillance methods used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

In the speech at the Department of Justice, the president will address 46 recommendations of a special review panel, including those aimed at imposing more accountability and transparency.  

Obama announced the comprehensive review in August, in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The president stressed his responsibility as commander-in-chief to safeguard the security of Americans, but recognized escalating public concerns about how the government goes about using signals intelligence. Obama also said he was mindful of how the issue is viewed overseas. Read more ..

CAR on Edge

CAR's Sectarian Divide: What's Behind It?

January 15th 2014

Victims of LRA

People in the Central African Republic say they had never seen anything like the violence between Muslims and Christians that has shaken the country in the past year.  Analysts are looking into how this religious divide emerged and what can be done to overcome it.

"Kilometre Cinq" is one of the neighborhoods in Bangui where Muslims have congregated since violence between Muslims, Christians and animists exploded in early December and at least 750 people in the capital were killed. Last week the violence flared again and a mob demolished the mosque in this district.

Local resident Eloge Alokaya says he saw them doing it. He says they were from this neighborhood, they were angry and they started by looting the imam’s house and finished by destroying the mosque. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

$571B Defense Bill Reverses Pension Cuts for Disabled Veterans

January 14th 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

The $571 billion Defense appropriations bill released late Monday would reverse cuts to retirement pay for medically retired veterans and survivor benefits that passed in last month’s budget deal.

The Defense bill included in the $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure resolves a $600 million “technical error” that would have reduced the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for medically retired veterans. The omnibus does not, however, repeal the larger $6 billion in cuts to military pensions for working-age retirees that some lawmakers have vocally opposed.

The Defense appropriations bill funds $486.9 billion in base spending, with additional funds from other appropriations bills reaching the $520 billion Defense spending cap set by the budget deal. That’s roughly in line with the 2013 Defense spending levels, as the Pentagon avoided a $22 billion hit under sequestration thanks to last month’s budget agreement. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan And Pakistan

January 13th 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

Al-Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in Iraq in the last year. Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has called it “al-Qaeda’s renaissance.” This year, most if not all American forces and those of our allies in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will finally come home from Afghanistan. Will al-Qaeda have another renaissance in South Asia?

There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11—the terror organization moved into Iraq only when Osama bin Laden saw George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were getting ready to invade Iraq in 2003. He set a trap. By 2006 Al-Qaeda in Iraq had plunged the country into civil war, pitting Shia against Sunni. Only the brave efforts of American Marines and GIs prevented the complete collapse of the state. Now al-Qaeda has come back in Iraq, raising its black flag over territory once fought over so hard by Americans. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Car Bombs Strike Baghdad, Killing Army Recruits

January 12th 2014

Kabul Car Bomb

Iraqi police say three bomb explosions killed at least 13 people and wounded several dozen more Sunday in Baghdad.  The most serious blast was at a bus and taxi depot that hit a group of Iraqi Army recruits.

Fire crews doused blazing vehicles after the latest bombings in the Iraqi capital, during a wave of violence aimed mostly at pro-government and Shi'ite targets.  The most powerful blast Sunday hit the Merab Alawi car park where dozens of army recruits were milling around.

It was the second major blast targeting army recruits in four days. Another Sunday explosion, apparently from a car bomb, caused casualties in the Kadhimiyah district of the capital.

The attacks came as Iraqi Army forces continued to shell targets in and around the town of Ramadi, part of which is held by Islamic militants loyal to the pro-al-Qaida group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Pro-government Sunni militiamen are fighting, with army support, to dislodge the militants. Read more ..

South Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Army Says it Has Recaptured Bentiu

January 11th 2014

South Sudan soldier

South Sudanese government troops have recaptured the town of Bentiu in oil-producing Unity state, army spokesman Philip Aguer said Friday.

Government troops retook the town at 2:30 p.m. after a two-hour battle with rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, Aguer said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the claim.

Aguer said the army's next target will be to recapture the capital of Jonglei state, Bor. South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer at a press conference in 2013, says government forces recaptured Bentiu on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Bentiu and Bor fell to forces loyal to Machar days after South Sudan was plunged into conflict on Dec. 15 when renegade soldiers attacked an army headquarters building in Juba. Read more ..

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