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The Arab Winter of Rage

State Dept Takes Steps to Protect Diplomats as Protests Continue

September 19th 2012

Amb. Christopher Stevens, killed in Libya #2

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is taking aggressive steps to protect its diplomats, as protests continue against an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. Demonstrations prompted the American consulate in the Indonesian city of Medan to temporarily close on Wednesday, following a similar move by the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand a day earlier.  Protests also took place Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Clinton said Tuesday that officials are reviewing security at every post and adjusting as necessary. She also said the Libyan government is helping American investigators probe last week's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats. Fury over the low-budget film that insults the Prophet Muhammad sparked protests, some of them violent, including at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. Tunisia's Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem on Tuesday condemned the attack, saying political violence is not acceptable and that such an incident will never happen again. He promised to pursue those responsible for the violence. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Iran and Syria Crises May Compel Hezbollah to Act, IDF Preparing

September 18th 2012

Hezbollah Troops

The IDF is deep in preparations for the next potential round of fighting with the Shi'ite Lebanese terror militia Hezbollah. If one conclusion can be drawn from the intensive military training, it is that the IDF is determined that any future confrontation does not resemble the indecisive outcome of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

This is highly important since it will be Hezbollah, with its tens of thousands of rockets, that will lead Iran's reprisal attempts for any potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons development program. Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in the summer of 2006, after Hezbollah launched an unprovoked cross-border raid on Israeli army patrols, killing several soldiers and kidnapping two more who soon died of their injuries, all the while firing rockets at northern Israeli communities. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

It is Not About Elections--It is About Centrifuges, Says Netanyahu

September 17th 2012

Bibi Netanyahu with Glasses

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicates much of his time to thinking about how to handle the Iranian nuclear issue, considering it a rapidly approaching existential threat. Not surprisingly, it was also the main topic of a wide-ranging interview he gave with Israel Hayom before Rosh Hashanah. Here is what the Israeli leader had to say:

IH: What did you say, and what did you hear, in your recent conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama?

Benjamin Netanyahu: “It was a good conversation that revolved around significant issues and our desire to prevent Iran from progressing any further with their military nuclear program. It is natural to have disagreements. Israel is closer [to Iran] and more vulnerable. The U.S. is big, far away, and less vulnerable. Naturally we have diverging views on certain things. In the face of a threat like Iran’s nuclear armament, I believe that it is important that the international community set a clear red line. Iran has taken obvious steps in recent years and months toward developing nuclear weapons capability.” Read more ..


The Winter of Arab Rage

Ambassador Rice Asserts Benghazi Attack was not Premeditated

September 17th 2012

Libya protesters

The Obama administration is sticking to its position that the deadly attack in Benghazi on September 11 wasn't premeditated, contradicting U.S. lawmakers and Libya's own president. Speaking on several Sunday shows on September 16, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice placed the blame for violence that has spread to two dozen countries across the Muslim world squarely on a U.S.-made anti-Islam video.

Republicans and many others are dubious, with some lawmakers suggesting the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi was a coordinated attack by a militant group. “There's no question that as we've seen in the past with things like [Salman Rushdie's] Satanic Verses, with the [Danish] cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger, and this has been the proximate cause of what we've seen,” Rice said on Fox News Sunday. “We are of the view that this is not an expression of hostility in the broader sense toward the United States or U.S. policy. It's proximately a reaction to this video.” Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Obama Administration Rattles the Sabre in Response to Muslim Uprising

September 15th 2012

Amb Chris Stevens in Death

In the aftermath of the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies are involved in beefing up diplomatic security and the investigation of the murders and assaults on U.S. embassy staff, according to a September 13 press conference.

During the news briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta condemned in the strongest terms the September 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt and Libya.

In response to the unrest in Muslim countries, Secretary Panetta ordered the evacuation of American diplomatic personnel and casualties out of Libya and called for the remains of the four State Department personnel, including those of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the attack late Tuesday at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, to be brought back to the United States. Read more ..


The Afganistan War

IG: Afghan Fuel Records Go Missing

September 15th 2012

Stryker ICV

What happened to almost $475 million worth of oil destined for the Afghan National Army – that’s what the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) would like to know.

Unfortunately, the inspectors may never find out.  According to the report released Monday, more than four years of financial records that the Department of Defense was supposed to keep to track this spending are either missing or so poorly kept that even gathering basic information, such as the location and size of fuel sites, was not possible.

The report concludes that the Department of Defense agency in charge of tracking the oil “does not have accurate or supportable information on how much U.S. funds are needed for [Army] fuel, where and how the fuel is actually used, or how much fuel has been lost or stolen.”

Inspectors found that records from October 2006 to March 2011 were shredded improperly, a violation of DOD policies that made it impossible for auditors to track what happened to the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil.  DOD also “could not provide more than half” of the documents requested from March 2011 onward. Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

How an 82-Year-Old Exposed Security Lapses at Nuclear Facilities

September 15th 2012

Y-12

The hammering on the wall of America’s premier storage vault for nuclear-weapons grade uranium in pitch-darkness six weeks ago was loud enough to be heard by security guards. But they assumed incorrectly that workmen were making an after-hours repair, and blithely ignored it.

Minutes earlier, a perimeter camera had caught an image of intruders — not workmen — breaching an eight-foot high security fence around the sensitive facility outside Knoxville, Tenn. But the guard operating the camera had missed it. A different camera stationed over another fence — also breached by the intruders — was out of service, a defect the protective force had ignored for 6 months.

In theory, the pounding might have been the work of a squad of terrorists preparing to plant a powerful explosive in the wall of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a half-billion dollar vault that stores the makings of more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. Instead, it was a group of three peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, a Bible, and several hammers. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Quds Force: Mission is to Destroy the Jewish state

September 13th 2012

Iranians on Parade

The ongoing series of terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks in countries throughout the world in recent years is prima facie evidence that Israel is being singled out for total destruction using any means necessary by Iran's global terrorism network. The Iranian government's tool for the annihilation of the Jewish State is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite unit the Quds Force, analysts at the Israeli terrorism think-tank the Meir Amit Information Center said.

The terrorist attacks are planned and directed by the Quds Force, while the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah carries out the actual attacks performing the function of the Quds Force's main proxy-militia abroad.

"In our assessment, the terrorist attack targeting the bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah as part of the Iranian campaign and from their point of view was the most successful to date. Five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and the terrorist were killed and 36 Israeli tourists were wounded," stated the Meir Amit analysts.

The Quds Force straddles the line separating a recognized nation's military from a state-sponsored terrorist group.

Iran's accelerated terrorist campaign during 2012, has several objectives. For example, Iranian leaders wish to counteract their almost paranoid fear of a covert campaign being conducted against it. Also, their goal is to exact revenge for the deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists and senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, which Iran and Hezbollah attribute to Israel. Read more ..


Site Security

Smart Material to Protect Buildings and Vehicles

September 12th 2012

indoor

Researchers in Berlin have developed a new kind of anti-theft system based on a woven fabric that triggers an alarm when penetrated by intruders

The smart fabric developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin enables the exact location of the break-in to be identified, and is significantly cheaper than other burglary detection systems.
The material is also cheap enough to use as an invisible means of protecting entire buildings. Vehicles parked overnight at truck stops are particularly vulnerable to attacks by thieves who slit open the canvas tarp covering the trailer while the driver is asleep and make off with the cargo. If the tarp were made from the smart fabric, the driver in the bunk would be immediately alerted.

The fabric was developed in collaboration with the Technische Universität Berlin and ETTLIN Spinnerei und  Produktions in Ettlingen, which manufactures technical textiles, among other things, and has filed a patent on the fabric.“The fabric could be used to implement an entirely novel, invisible security system for buildings,” said IZM project manager Erik Simon. What makes this solution unique is the fact that it not only signals the presence of intruders but also indicates the precise point of forced entry. The fine lattice of conductive threads woven into the fabric enables the place where it was cut to be identified to the nearest centimeter. Read more ..


The New Middle East

Islamists Storm U.S. Embassy in Cairo; Ambassador Killed in Libya

September 12th 2012

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

Egyptian protesters, believed to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more radical Islamist group the Salafists, stormed the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday. The enraged mob then tore down the American flag and burned it during the mob attack. The attackers were allegedly angry over a motion picture being filmed that they claim denigrates the Prophet Mohammad, according to a U.S. counterterrorism analyst in the nation’s capital. About 20 people stood on top of the embassy wall, while about 2,000 protesters gathered outside. The embassy attackers demanded that President Mohamed Morsi, himself an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, take action against the U.S. filmmakers.

Once the U.S. flag was in their possession, the Egyptian invaders shredded it and posed with its pieces in front of television cameras. Finally, the Islamist mob burned the shredded Stars and Stripes outside of the embassy building, but still on embassy property. The U.S. Marines assigned to perimeter security were reportedly ordered to stand down in spite of facing thousands of rabid protesters. Read more ..


China on Edge

China Sends Ships to Stake Claim to Disputed Islands

September 11th 2012

China Japan Islands

Tensions between China and Japan continued to rise Tuesday as Tokyo sealed a deal to purchase islands that Chinese authorities say belong to them.

China responded by sending two patrol ships to the hotly contested waters.  According state-run Xinhua news agency, the two marine surveillance ships were deployed to assert what it called the country’s undisputed sovereignty in the area.

The islets, known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku, lie near strategic shipping and fishing grounds, as well as potential oil and gas reserves.

A commentary Tuesday in the official media outlet of China’s military, the PLA Daily, warned Japan that it was playing with fire. The commentary stressed that while the Chinese public yearned for peace, peace had to be built on mutual respect and not threaten China’s territorial integrity. By moving its ships close to the disputed islands, China was trying to gain more leverage, said security analyst James Nolt, dean of the New York Institute of Technology’s Nanjing campus. Read more ..


Syria's Nukes

New Details of 2007 Syria Operation May Provide Insight into Iran Attack

September 11th 2012

IDF F-16s

Excerpts from a book written by Middle East expert David Makovsky, appearing in the New Yorker, reveal new details on the decision-making process leading up to Israel’s strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor in September 2007 that could provide possible parallels to the present-day situation with Iran.

The story begins in March 2007, when Israeli Mossad agents uncovered detailed photographs of Syria’s nuclear facility, al-Kibar, after breaking into the Vienna home of Ibrahim Othman, the head of Syria’s program.

Ehud Olmert, then Israel’s prime minister, established a secret committee comprising former prime ministers—Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu —as well as the heads of Israel’s intelligence and defense establishments to be a decision-making body.

Next, Olmert shared the evidence with the United States, which started a CIA investigation. While the CIA confirmed the same photographic findings as the Mossad, that it was a nuclear facility, it was unable to “identify the other essentials of a weapons program, such as a reprocessing plant or active work on a warhead,” according to former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who was quoted by Makovsky. Based on that, President George W. Bush decided against an attack. Read more ..


New Zealand on Edge

New Zealand Border Guards given Greater Enforcement Powers

September 10th 2012

New Zealand Border Patrol

As are a number of nations throughout the world, the government of New Zealand is taking a more serious approach to border security by allowing the country's immigration officers more latitude in conducting searches and detentions. Government officials said on Wednesday (Thursday New Zealand time) that protecting the integrity of the country's border is a top priority.

"Compliance officers now have increased powers to search at the border, and the ability to detain people liable for deportation for a limited period of time," Nathan Guy, the Minister of Immigration said in a press statement on Monday. "They also have the power to obtain biometric information like fingerprints, and greater access to the records of education providers," he added. Read more ..


Iraq's Nukes

Lessons for Israel from Captured Iraqi Nuclear Documents

September 10th 2012

Israeli Jet Diving

While Israel is naturally focused on the implications of Iran completing its drive toward nuclear weapons, there is another case of one of its bitterest enemies, who tried to accomplish the same goal once before: Saddam Hussein of Iraq. As a result of the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. Army captured thousands of hours of recordings of highly-classified meetings of the Iraqi leadership on the subject of how they viewed the purpose of nuclear weapons in the future, as well as how they envisioned their use in the context of a war against Israel.

The U.S. Army made the Iraqi tapes and documents available for analysts, who have begun to publish books and academic articles on their content. Last year, two analysts, Hal Brands and David Palkki, published a study they prepared on the Iraqi records for the U.S. National Defense University (NDU). What they found was that Saddam Hussein had personally spoken about the importance of nuclear weapons as a key component of Iraqi strategy from 1978 until the Israeli strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Investigation of Alleged Killing By Border Patrol Agent

September 9th 2012

Border Patrol-Arizona

The U.S. law enforcement officers are investigating a shooting incident involving a U.S. Border Patrol agent who allegedly fired his weapon across the Texas-Mexico border killing a Mexican citizen, U.S. officials reported on Thursday.

The shooting comes at a time when the Obama administration is moving to shut down nine Border Patrol stations across four states, triggering a backlash from local law enforcement, members of Congress and Border Patrol agents themselves. In this latest violence on the border, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, a group of people threw rocks and debris at Border agents aboard a boat near Laredo, Texas, on Monday. One of the agents then fired his sidearm toward the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo across the border. However, it was not yet clear if anyone was hit by the bullets, according to daily newspaper Houston Chronicle. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Militants Launch Counteroffensive From Afghan Safe Haven

September 8th 2012

Bomb explosion

Fighting has been raging for more than a week in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency as militants surge back into the region from safe havens across the border in Afghanistan.

Just a year ago this area was declared free of insurgents. That was after a three-year military operation that Islamabad hailed as a major success in its strategy of clearing, holding, and developing militant-plagued regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Now, as calls are made for similar operations elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan, the resumption of fighting in Bajaur is raising questions about how effective the strategy really is when safe havens can easily be found across the border in Afghanistan. The thousands of villagers fleeing the fighting for the safety of Bajaur's main town of Khar tell of relatives and neighbors struck down in the cross-fire. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

What We Know About Iran's Nuclear Enrichment

September 7th 2012

Iran centrifuges

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed last week that his government isn't interested in nuclear weapons: "Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none," he said. A better perspective was provided almost simultaneously from the world's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which on Aug. 30 released its latest report on Iran's nuclear activities.

The report, written in a mix of bureaucrat-speak and obscure science, nevertheless conveys a worrying message. It shows that Iran continues to expand its capacity for enriching uranium. There are now two new groups of centrifuges installed at Fordow -- the hardened site built under a mountain near the holy city of Qom -- which signals a doubling of the site's capacity since May. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistan Expels Save the Children in Wake of Bin Laden Raid

September 7th 2012

Bin Laden Compound

Pakistan has ordered Save the Children's foreign staff members to leave the country. An official with the U.S.-based aid agency, Ghulam Qadri, told reporters Thursday that the Interior Ministry ordered six foreign employees to leave Pakistan, but gave no reason for the expulsion.

Save the Children is said to have come under increased government scrutiny following media reports that it helped facilitate meetings between the CIA and a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who is said to have helped the U.S. intelligence agency track down Osama bin Laden. U.S. special forces killed the al-Qaida leader in May of 2011 during a covert raid in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. Qadri on Thursday denied allegations that the aid group put Afridi in touch with the CIA. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Planning for Contingencies and Evacuations is Better than no Planning

September 7th 2012

bus evac

When the London 2012 Paralympic Games conclude the week of Sept. 9, the British navy reportedly will send a task force to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, where it will participate in amphibious exercises off the coasts of Albania, Sardinia and Turkey before lingering off the coast of Cyprus.

Ostensibly, the upcoming exercises are meant to prepare the navy for evacuating Syria of British citizens. Indeed, the ongoing civil war in Syria has prompted several Western countries to consider evacuation plans for their citizens who remain in the war-torn country. Some countries already have issued travel warnings against Syria, while others have advised their citizens to vacate the country. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Germany have closed their embassies in Syria and are less able to assist their citizens there. Foreign nationals should take full advantage of their governments' evacuation assistance regardless of the country in which they temporarily reside; British citizens in Syria are no exception. However, government planning is no substitute for personal evacuation plans, which are vital for any citizen in a foreign country. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Forces Turn to Air Power as Insurgency Gains

September 6th 2012

Aleppo

Syrian government forces are coming in for fierce international criticism as they turn increasingly to air power to counter rebel strength on the ground. And both sides are using ever more brutal tactics, pushing casualty levels to new highs.

Nearly a quarter of a million Syrians have fled their homes in recent weeks, as government bombs and mortar shells have begun targeting heavily-populated areas.

Last week, amateur video on a social website, which could not be independently verified, purported to show the aftermath of attacks on the town of Deraa. This week, government raids struck Syria's largest city, Aleppo. Burying the victims is challenging authorities, as estimates of the death toll top 4,000 for August, the worst month since an opposition uprising began in March of last year. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Colombia Talks with Terrorists

September 5th 2012

Colombia FARC rebels

On September 4, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos unveiled more details about the peace talks being scheduled with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. It was the president’s second speech regarding the peace developments within the last two weeks; the first taking place on August 27 when the start of “exploratory talks” with FARC was declared. This renewed peace process represents a monumental shift in the attitude of the Colombian government towards the notorious terrorist group and gives hope to force the end the guerrilla conflict.

The FARC has been terrorizing, assassinating and kidnapping, keeping many Colombians and foreign visitors in fear. In order to maintain its decade-long open conflict with the government forces, the guerrilla group has been financing its activities with coca production and distribution. By the best estimates, the number of casualties caused by FARC from 1975 to 2011 is approximately 14,645 people. Additionally, former President Uribe, from 2002 to 2010 presided over the worst two years of casualties. The growth of violence during Uribe’s term is largely attributed to his exclusive use of military force in attempts to exterminate the guerrilla groups, while blocking any negotiations. Read more ..


Congo on Edge

DRC Says Rwanda Withdraws Troops Helping Rebels

September 5th 2012

Soldiers

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government says Rwanda has been smuggling troops out of the eastern DRC.  The DRC accuses Rwanda of assisting rebels in the region, an accusation that Rwanda repeatedly has denied.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s communications minister Lambert Mende has questioned Rwanda’s announcement that last Friday it withdrew a contingent of soldiers who were working with the Congolese army. Mende does not deny that some units of the Rwandan army, said by local sources to number more than 200, were withdrawn from the territory of Rutshuru last week, but he says they were not part of a joint operation with the Congolese army. He says the announcement was to disguise a withdrawal of troops that should not have been in the Congo, and were probably helping the rebel group M23.

"We think that it is a trick, because we received here less than 100 intelligence officers.  It’s what we agreed with our neighbours - to set up a team of 100 from Congo and 100 from Rwanda to set up a mechanism to monitor the border," Mende said. Mende says Congo recently decided to dismantle this team, because of worsening relations with Rwanda, and he suggests Kigali has seized this opportunity to smuggle out other soldiers. Read more ..


The New Libya

Mauritania Extradites Gadhafi's Ex-Spy Chief

September 5th 2012

Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar Qadfdafi

Mauritania's state news agency says Moammar Gadhafi's ex-spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has been handed over to Libya, where he is expected to stand trial.

Al-Senussi was arrested in March after sneaking into Mauritania using a disguise and a fake passport. Since then, Libyan authorities have called for the extradition of the former intelligence chief, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Mauritania had insisted on trying al-Senussi on charges of illegally entering the country. But government officials confirmed that he left the country Wednesday on a Libya-bound flight.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Senussi in June, saying he was responsible as an "indirect perpetrator" on two counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and political persecution.

France had also wanted al-Senussi extradited there to serve a life sentence handed down in absentia for his role in the 1989 bombing of a French commercial airliner that killed 170 people.

Al-Senussi is the brother-in-law of ex-Libyan leader Gadhafi, who was forced from power by a revolt that in October 2011 led to his death and the arrest of several of his key allies.


Inside Gaza

Gaza Tunnel Trade: Matter of Life and Death for Hamas

September 5th 2012

The hundreds of underground tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip and Egypt have served as a means of smuggling banned goods into the occupied territories over the past 5 years of Gaza’s international isolation. However today, these tunnel networks are serving a different purpose, namely as a major source of income and wealth for some Gazan citizens, not to mention the Hamas government that controls the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of tons of fuel, goods, medicine, building materials such as cement and steel, and even cars and cigarettes are smuggled into the Gaza Strip everyday via these tunnels. There is no accurate figure regarding precisely how much and what is being smuggled into the Gaza Strip, however well-informed sources have claimed that this tunnel network is made up of more than 400 main tunnels, in addition to around 1,000 tributary sun-tunnels.

There are tunnels belonging to Hamas, and which are solely used by the Hamas organization and their affiliates, as well as “public” tunnels. It costs around $80,000 to dig a tunnel, depending on the tunnel’s size and length; however this price is more than worth it as a single tunnel could net the owner $150,000 per day. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Afghan NGO Inspires Unlikely Reconciliation

September 4th 2012

Kabul Shelter
Credit: Frud Bezhan (RFE/RL)

Recent Afghan history has been marked by war, much of it fought among Afghans themselves on the basis of religious, ethnic, or political rivalries. So it should come as no surprise that even if they are all under the Afghan flag today, there are few places where onetime enemies can work together -- let alone live under the same roof.

Yet at a shelter in Kabul's old city, the scene of some of the fiercest interethnic and sectarian fighting in the country, a motley crew of battle-hardened veterans is doing just that. Former combatants, many of them permanently disfigured, leave their differences at the door when they enter the shelter. There they can receive food, lodging, and even financial support thanks to the nongovernmental Union for Afghanistan's Disabled. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Security Council to Discuss Syria Without U.S., Russia, China

September 3rd 2012

syria-killing

The UN Security Council is holding a high-level session with foreign ministers Thursday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria — where 2.5 million people are in need of assistance and 200,000 to 300,000 Syrians have been displaced as a result of the 18-month civil war. Although the council has yet to agree on how to handle Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters that he hopes members can agree on a position in dealing with the humanitarian issue.

But even that seems unlikely. The meeting will not include ministers from three of the Security Council’s permanent members — the U.S., China, and Russia — putting the gathering’s importance into question and signaling that Washington believes it has exhausted all options at the council. Ministers from Syria’s neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan — all dealing with fallout from the crisis — will be in attendance. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Identity, Motives Of Intruders Onto Georgian Territory Remain Unclear

September 3rd 2012

Georgian Republic Military

Official Georgian accounts of the incursion into Georgian territory last week of a group of armed men from Daghestan leave many key questions unanswered. More to the point, the interpretations offered by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Security Council Chairman Giga Bokeria are at odds.

The first Georgian reports early on August 29 said troops and Interior Ministry special forces had trapped a group of armed “saboteurs” in the Lopota Gorge close to the Russian-Georgian border and secured the release of five local men whom the intruders had taken hostage. The Georgian Interior Ministry initially announced that “one intruder from Daghestan” had been killed. Just hours later, the ministry reported the release of two further groups of hostages and the death of at least 10 of the infiltrators, who were described as “terrorists.” The men killed were said to be “mostly” Russian citizens from the North Caucasus republics. No clue was offered as to the ethnicity or citizenship of the others. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Netanyahu Urges International 'Red Line' To Stop Iran as Obama Turns his Back on Israel

September 2nd 2012

Israeli Jet Diving

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged major world powers to set "a clear red line" for Iran's nuclear program. Speaking during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the international community had not done enough to deter Iran from pursuing a program that Israel and the West believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. "The Iranians are using the talks with the world powers to gain time and to advance their nuclear program. I believe we must state the truth," Netanyahu said. "The international community is not laying down a clear red line for Iran and Iran is not seeing an international determination to stop its nuclear program. "Unless Iran sees this clear red line and this clear determination," he continued, "it will not stop advancing its nuclear program, and Iran must not have nuclear weapons." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghans Terrorized By Border Shelling As Blame Game Goes On

September 2nd 2012

Taliban in Pakistan

Abdul Karim was inside when the first rocket struck, killing nearly everyone in a neighboring mud-brick house. Many more rockets followed, raining down on the village as Karim and others fled for safety in the nearby mountains. Within minutes, it was over, but it was only a sign of what was to come. Since that day in late June, crossborder rocket and mortar fire has continued to pepper villages in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, located along Afghanistan's insurgent-ridden northeastern border with Pakistan. Nearly 3,200 attacks have been recorded across five districts in Kunar alone, according to the provincial government.

Kabul has accused the Pakistani Army of indiscriminately shelling Afghan villages in order to further destabilize the already restive regions.

Islamabad, which denies the accusations, says its troops are responding to attacks by militants on the Afghan side of the border.​​And while the blame game goes on, the rockets keep coming, adding to the misery of everyday residents. Tens of people have been left dead and thousands displaced already in the remote, mountainous provinces. Homes have been lost and dozens of schools closed. Forest fires caused by the shelling have destroyed crops and killed livestock.

'Situation Is Appalling'
Karim, who is from a remote village in Kunar Province, is among those who left for safe haven. But reality quickly set in when he and his wife and three children arrived at a makeshift camp some 50 kilometers from his village.

Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Afghans Terrorized By Border Shelling

September 2nd 2012

Afganistan Protest

Abdul Karim was inside when the first rocket struck, killing nearly everyone in a neighboring mud-brick house. Many more rockets followed, raining down on the village as Karim and others fled for safety in the nearby mountains. Within minutes, it was over, but it was only a sign of what was to come.

Since that day in late June, crossborder rocket and mortar fire has continued to pepper villages in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, located along Afghanistan's insurgent-ridden northeastern border with Pakistan. Nearly 3,200 attacks have been recorded across five districts in Kunar alone, according to the provincial government. Kabul has accused the Pakistani Army of indiscriminately shelling Afghan villages in order to further destabilize the already restive regions. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Seize Air Defense Facility

September 1st 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Activists say Syrian rebels have seized an air defense facility and attacked a military airport in eastern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks took place in the city of al-Bukamal in Deir al-Zor province near the Iraqi border. The monitoring group said the rebels captured 16 air defense personnel in their raid on the military facility. An Observatory official, Rami Abdel Rahman, told the French news agency (AFP) seizing the air defense building was a "major coup" for the rebels.  The group said the attack on the Hamdan military airport sparked violent clashes with government forces. Opposition fighters have been carrying out a campaign targeting the government's air power. Read more ..

Kurdistan on Edge

The Next Flashpoint Between Turkey, Iraq, and the Syrian Revolt

September 1st 2012

PKK rally

In the wake of the steady disintegration of the Assad regime, Syrian opposition activists reported that several towns, such as Amouda and Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeast, had passed in mid-July 2012 without a fight into the local hands of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Thus emerged for the first time in modern Kurdish history the nucleus of an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave bordering the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of the Kurdish-populated towns.

The Free Kurdish Army was formed from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group with historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The PKK, it should be remembered, is regarded by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds are reportedly concentrating their efforts on wresting control of Qamishli, the largest of the Kurdish cities, from the Syrian government. Kurdish forces have already captured the city of Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Governorate, where they are flying the Kurdish flag. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

US Facing Growing ‘Green-On-Blue’ Challenge

September 1st 2012

Afghanistan Fighters

A gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed three Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday night, the latest in an alarming string of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks that have eroded morale and trust at a critical juncture as foreign troops are withdrawing and transitioning security to the Afghan lead. The deaths bring the number of foreign troops killed by Afghan allies, or by Taliban fighters disguised as them, to 45 this year, most of them Americans.

According to General John R. Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been responsible for one quarter of these attacks through infiltration, coercion and impersonation. The new threat has been a PR disaster for Kabul and Washington, but a propaganda victory for the Taliban. In his Eid al-Fitr message, the insurgent group’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar claimed his fighters had “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy,” and that the Taliban had created the “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” department to encourage more defections. Read more ..


The New Egypt

U.S. Security Interests in Egypt

August 31st 2012

Mohammed Morsi

How much recent events have eroded U.S. security interests in Egypt depends on how deeply rooted those interests were in the first place. Although the Mubarak government did some things we wanted it to do, it did other things that were anathema. Mubarak, with U.S. complicity and Israeli acquiescence, fed the growth of a military that could be used for good or ill while he fed the Egyptian people lies about Israel, about war, about Jews and about peace. In the bigger picture, Egypt always saw itself with Arab and Sunni and larger Muslim responsibilities as well as responsibilities to its non-Muslim patron, whether the U.S. or Russia before it.

The smart bet was never on Egypt as an actual ally – which presumes a certain fundamental alignment – but on the understanding that things would be worse if Mubarak weren't there. The now-complete demise of military structure embodied in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – America's erstwhile ally – was utterly predictable. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Saudi National Faces Multiple Terrorism Charges at Gitmo

August 31st 2012

Click to select Image

A Saudi Arabian national on Wednesday was officially charged with several terrorism offenses by the Chief Prosecutor for Military Commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military detention center.

Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi is accused of a number of offenses triable under the Military Commissions Act of 2009. The 37-year-old suspect faces several charges including: Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Attacking Civilian Objects; Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Hazarding a Vessel; Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Terrorism; Aiding the Enemy; and other charges.

The U.S. prosecutors allege that al Darbi entered into a terrorist conspiracy with al Qaeda by the year 1997. He allegedly attended the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan, and he have received personal permission from Osama bin Laden to train at al Qaeda’s Jihad Wahl training camp in Afghanistan. He later allegedly became a weapons instructor at al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp, also in Afghanistan. From approximately 2000 through 2002, al Darbi is also alleged to have committed multiple overt acts in support of a plot to bomb civilian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and off the coast of Yemen. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

British Bank Accused of Doing Massive Illegal Iran Business: Settles with New York Authorities

August 30th 2012

On August 6, 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the state banking regulator, accused Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) of Britain of using its New York state branch as a clearinghouse for Iran transactions in a massive cover-up scheme involving at least $250 billion.  The DFS stated in an order that in review of 30,000 pages of bank documents and e-mail communications, it found that for nearly ten years, SCB officials “programmatically engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct,” concealing transactions with Iranian financial institutions including its Central Bank/Bank Markazi, Bank Saderat, and Bank Melli, which are affiliated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.  The bank was also accused of transacting with other sanctioned countries. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Government Facing 'Global Battle'

August 30th 2012

Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday his government is fighting a "regional and global battle" and that more time is needed to win the conflict against rebels trying to overthrow him. His comments came as renewed fighting broke out between rebels and Syrian forces near the Taftanaz military airport, located between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that 14 government troops were killed or injured in fierce fighting at Taftanaz, while three rebels died during the clashes. The group also says anti-government fighters damaged three to five helicopters at the airport. Taftanaz has been targeted several times by rebels entrenched in the two cities, which have suffered daily shelling by government troops.

​​Comments signal long fight

In excerpts from an interview with Syria's privately-owned Addounia television, Assad described the situation on the ground as "practically better" but "not yet decided - that takes time." It was Assad's first interview since the explosion that tore through a government compound about six weeks ago, killing and wounding a handful of top aides. The Syrian leader, who has vowed to defeat rebels he has characterized as Islamist terrorists, praised the army and security forces for their "heroic conduct." Assad boasted, "Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond" between the government and the Syrian people, boasting the support of the majority of the population. "Everyone is worried about their country, that is normal. But [opposition rebels] will not be able to spread fear, they never will," he said. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

U.S. Sets Record Arms Sales in 2011

August 29th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The year 2011 was a very good one for U.S. arms sales, with more than triple the business from the year before.

According to a new report to Congress, worldwide sales of U.S. weapons last year added up to $66.3 billion. That accounts for more than three-quarters of 2011 arms sales worldwide, which is “the highest single year agreements total in the history of the U.S. arms export program.”

The report was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) as part of their annual study of arms sales.

In 2010, the U.S. authorized $21.4 billion in sales, which led CRS to describe the jump as “extraordinary.” In terms of overall sales, Russia was distant second to the United States, having moved $4.8 billion. The previous record was in 2009, when the U.S. did almost $31 billion in sales.

Since the start of 2008, 81.4 percent of U.S. arms sales agreements have gone to the Middle East while 16.04 percent have gone to Asian countries. In the report, CRS notes that sales to developing nations were a major driver in lifting 2011 U.S. sales, jumping from $14.3 billion in 2010 to $56.3 billion in 2011. CRS points to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as countries that bolstered their arms purchasing in 2011, which CRS says could be linked to concerns over Iran. Saudi Arabia purchased more than $33 billion in arms from the U.S., including 84 new F-15 jets and upgrades for 70 older models. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Nigeria Official Denies Insecurity Drives Away Investors

August 28th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

An adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has denied reports that the country’s security challenges are driving away investors. Doyin Okupe, senior special adviser for public affairs, says the administration is working with prominent elders in the north to find solutions to the violence often perpetrated by an Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

“Now, very important personalities in the country, especially in the north, have constituted themselves into a very strong body and they are determined to put an end to this,” Okupe said. “And in our country, this is very cherry news, because these are very respected people whose voices can hardly be ignored.

“It is obvious to all and sundry, and those who are willing to be objective, to know that the issue of the insurgency in Nigeria is on its way out.” Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Nigeria, including church bombings and the bombing of a United Nations building. The group has threatened international media organizations, including VOA’s Hausa service. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Lebanon Will Answer For Hezbollah Attacks On The Jewish People--Israel Vows

August 28th 2012

Hezbollah Lebanon

On Monday, Israel's characteristically blunt Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a "clear message to the Lebanese government" saying Lebanon will be held responsible for -- and will answer for -- any future terrorist attack on Israel by the Hezbollah terrorist group that controls a large section of the Arab nation, an Israeli police source stated. According to a news report appearing in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the Prime Minister's message was passed along to Lebanese leaders by a "Western diplomat who met with Netanyahu in the past few weeks." This means that if Hezbollah fires rockets into Israeli territory or carries any other form of attack, Israel would retaliate and target not only Hezbollah, but also civilian facilities in Lebanon such as infrastructure, power plants, and air and sea ports, as well as government buildings, according to the Israeli police source, who is an expert in counterterrorism tactics and strategies. Read more ..



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