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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 ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Helicopter Downed in Damascus

August 27th 2012

Syrian Helicopter

Syrian rebels say they shot down a military helicopter during heavy fighting with government forces in Damascus Monday.

The helicopter appeared to catch fire amid a hail of automatic rounds coming from rebel positions on the ground. Amateur video -- which has not been independently verified - showed the chopper sputtering, before taking a nose dive and crashing in a ball of fire. A second amateur video showed what appeared to be a rotor-blade and a burnt section of the helicopter's fuselage in a small alleyway behind several houses.

A rebel spokesman said that the Free Syrian Army's "Badr Brigade" shot down the helicopter to "avenge a massacre by (regime forces) in the Damascus suburb of Daraya." He said that the body of the pilot was recovered. The report could not be confirmed. Analyst Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says rebels have shot down Syrian government aircraft before. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Investigates Suspected Smuggler

August 27th 2012

Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into a tunnel network running from its border into neighboring Slovakia, a member of the European Union.   There has been mounting international concern that organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union smuggle people, weapons, drugs, cigarettes and other goods into the European Union.

Ukraine's secret service, SBU, says it has discovered a suspected smuggler tunnel running from the western Ukrainian border village of Mali Selmenci into Slovakia. In a statement, the SBU says the tunnel's entrance was beneath a retail store, ironically called 'Europa.'

The store sold clothing and household merchandise.  But the SBU believes the real purpose was to hide a dangerous, four-meter-deep, underground tunnel, to smuggle goods or people into the European Union. Ukraine, which is not an EU member, has come under pressure to crackdown on organized crime. Slovaks found an even more advanced 700-meter tunnel last month, explained Slovakia's Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. The tunnel was equipped with a small train and tracks running from the western Ukrainian border town of Uzhhorod into Slovakia. Minister Kalinak says, "it was capable of transporting various kinds of goods" and he "suspects also people." Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkish Opposition: Government Ignoring Presence of al-Qaida

August 26th 2012

Gaza Militants

Turkish political opposition members are claiming that Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to Islamic militants based in Turkey who are crossing over the border to join the opposition fighting the Assad government in Syria.

Mehmet Ali Edipoglu is parliamentary deputy for the main opposition Peoples Republic Party, for Hatay -- the main city in the Antakya province that borders Syria.

While he says he has no complaints about the Syrian rebels operating from the region, the past few months there has been a worrying change in the influx of new fighters.

Edipoglu says militants who are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and from various countries in Africa are placed in Hatay and they say they are here to fight for Syria, to make a Jihad and bring Sharia, he says.   He says they all openly say that they are al-Qaida and there have been incidents of small fights between these people and Hatay locals. Edipoglu says many are now getting to guns to protect themselves and he says he spoke to the governor and police many times and they tell him they are keeping these people under control. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Warns Of Catastrophe In Homs

August 25th 2012

Inside Wartorn Syria

Syria's main opposition group has urged the United Nations and Arab League to intervene in order to prevent a "catastrophe" in central Homs province.

Syrian National Council member Naji Tayyra said on August 25 that Homs residents have now been besieged for more than 80 days by regime forces and all supply routes had been cut off. 

Homs, a flashpoint of the revolt that started against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, has seen some of the fiercest battles between troops and opposition forces in recent months. The call for intervention comes as the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria prepares to take up renewed international efforts to mediate peace in the country.  Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japan Increases Rhetoric Against S. Korea Over Island Dispute

August 25th 2012

Liancourt Rocks
Liancourt Rocks

Japan's top government officials and lawmakers are continuing to turn up the heat on two neighboring countries with claims on islands that Japan considers its own. While calling on South Korea to respond to the territorial dispute in a wise and cautious manner, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's remarks at a Tokyo news conference Friday evening are likely to do little to ease rising diplomatic tensions with both Seoul and Beijing. Noda tells reporters Japan will strengthen measures to secure its surrounding waters.

In a tough 10 minute opening statement, the Japanese prime minister asserted his country's territorial claims noting while it may be 61st in land size, Japan's expansive maritime waters make it the world's sixth biggest sea power. When the depths of those waters are also taken into consideration, Noda asserts, Japan is number four. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Spillover from Syria Endangers Lebanon

August 24th 2012

Syrian Refugees
Syrian refugees

On August 15, a Shiite faction in Lebanon kidnapped twenty Syrian expatriate laborers in retaliation for the earlier snatching of two dozen Shiite "pilgrims" by a Sunni opposition group in Syria. Less covered by the Western media, but perhaps equally consequential, was the August 9 arrest of former Lebanese labor minister Michel Samaha, charged with plotting to bomb a Sunni iftar dinner following the Ramadan fast. The allegation against Samaha -- a prominent Christian with close ties to both the Syrian regime and the Shiite militia Hizballah -- shocked a Lebanese government already reeling from the violence in Syria. The latest incidents highlight not only concerns about spillover from the bloody eighteen-month uprising against Bashar al-Assad, but also the need for an effective U.S. strategy to promote stability and foster a viable political alliance to displace the current Hizballah-based government in Lebanon.

THE SAMAHA PLOT

Samaha has been a public figure in Lebanon for decades. An elected member of parliament from the Christian nationalist Phalange Party, he served once as minister of tourism and information, and twice as information minister in governments led by the late Rafiq Hariri. After the civil war ended and Syria occupied Lebanon in 1991, Samaha developed increasingly close ties to Hafiz al-Assad's regime in Damascus. Later, following Hariri's 2005 assassination, the Cedar Revolution, and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, he aligned politically with the pro-Syria, Hizballah-led "March 8" coalition. In 2007, he was banned from traveling to the US for his role in "destabilizing Lebanon." Read more ..


America on Edge

The Persistent Threat of Domestic Terrorism

August 23rd 2012

floyd corkins

A string of incidents over the past month has served as a reminder that despite the intense, decadelong focus on the jihadist threat, domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. On Aug. 5, Wade Page opened fire on the congregation of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding three others. Though Page killed himself and did not leave any evidence explicitly listing his motives for the attack, his long association with the white supremacist movement was clearly a factor in his target choice.

On Aug. 15, Floyd Corkins shot and wounded a security guard in the lobby of the Family Research Council's office in Washington after the guard blocked him from entering the office. Corkins reportedly was carrying a bag containing a box of ammunition and a number of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. He apparently targeted the Family Research Council because of its public support for Chick-fil-A in the wake of the controversy over statements made by the fast food chain's founder regarding gay marriage. According to media reports, Corkins said, "I don't like your politics," before opening fire. Read more ..


America's Nukes

Nun's Story: Octogenarian Breaches Security at Nuclear Weapons Complex

August 23rd 2012

Y-12

An 82-year-old nun successfully breached a high-tech security complex’s protective fences using garden-variety, low-tech bolt cutters. And even more disturbing to the facility's security director, she remained undetected in a highly secure area on the nuclear complex’s grounds for more than two hours, according to a security report dated Aug. 22, 2012.

The octogenarian, Sister Megan Rice and two accomplices, activists Michael Walli, 57, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 63, were able to compromise three security fences belonging to Y-12 National Security Complex located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, according to a security report.

While the trio's July 28 intrusion did initiate an alarm condition, they managed to evade capture by supposedly well-trained security officers for more than two hours. During that time the Catholic nun and her two accomplices threw blood on the walls of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) located inside the complex. They also spray painted anti-nuclear and anti-war graffiti. Built in the early 1950s, Y-12 manufactures uranium components for warheads for the U.S. military's nuclear arsenal and is the U.S.government's primary source for bomb-grade uranium. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Artillery and Tank Fire in Damascus Reasserts Control

August 23rd 2012

Syrian tankers

Syrian government forces have renewed their attacks in the capital, Damascus, killing at least 35 people in a campaign of shelling and artillery fire on August 22. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that the deaths occurred in Kfar Souseh, Daraya and other southern districts where anti-government rebels operate. Residents said the shelling and aerial bombardment were some of the fiercest since the army reasserted control over the opposition neighborhoods. They said rebels who left the city last month during a brutal army campaign had started to return.

Also on August 22, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told BFM-RMC radio that France is providing the Syrian opposition with “non-lethal” military aid such as means of communication and protection. But he added that France opposes any military intervention in Syria without U.N. backing. Ayrault said France had responded to a request from the rebels for aid.  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Ayatollah Khamenei Orders More Terror Attacks Against the West

August 23rd 2012

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Members of Iran’s Quds Force were recently instructed by the country’s most authoritative figure, Ayatollah Khamenei, to increase their attacks on western targets in retaliation for what Iran believes is a direct effort to help the Syrian opposition topple Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, according to senior western intelligence officials.

The directive was given at a meeting of Iran’s National Security Council in Tehran, which was held to review a report commissioned to examine the geo-political ramifications for Iran if Assad were to lose power in Syria.

Khamenei himself is said to have commissioned the report, according to western intelligence officials, and in response to international sanctions against the Iranian regime, along with western support for Syrian rebels, Khamenei has decided that his country “cannot be passive”. According to one of the intelligence sources who spoke with The Telegraph in Britain, Khamenei believes he must show “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region” Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Israel Concerned About Egyptian Tanks in Sinai

August 22nd 2012

Egyptian Tanks in Sinai

Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turks Fear “Kurdish Spring”

August 21st 2012

Turkish Military

Turkish forces have launched a major offensive in recent days against positions held by the PKK rebel movement in the area of the Turkish-Iraqi border. Up to 2,000 troops are taking part in the operation, according to Turkish media sources.

Turkey’s Interior Minister, Idris Naim Sahin, claimed that 115 Kurdish rebels had been killed by the Turkish security forces – an assertion dismissed by the PKK, which itself claims to have killed up to 49 Turkish soldiers. The fighting has been going on since July 24, when the Turkish army responded in force to a PKK attempt to seize control of the road between the towns of Semdinli and Gerdiya. The authorities have closed off the area, making it difficult to attain an accurate picture of events on the ground. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Taking the Edge Off a Pipe Bomb--Literally

August 20th 2012

Bomb explosion

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate's (S&T) new low-cost device for dismantling dangerous pipe bombs may look like a tinkerer's project, but that's no accident. The Semi Autonomous Pipe Bomb End-cap Remover (SAPBER) is unassuming in appearance, but sophisticated enough to preserve the forensic evidence needed to track down the perpetrator.

"From ten paces away, you might mistake the contraption for a pressure washer," says S&T Program Manager Christine Lee. "But step closer and you'll find an ingenious device bristling with four video cameras, radios, a telescoping mast, cutting wheels, a twisting wrist, an electric motor, and a chain-driven gear, all powered by a pair of 12-volt batteries."

Thousands of pipe bombs are made each year, and thousands of pipe bomb threats are called into local police and FBI authorities across the country. Many are false alarms, but those that aren't can be deadly.

Dismantling a pipe bomb is tricky and serious business, and missteps during the dismantling process can produce catastrophic results. Law enforcement authorities ideally would like to preserve all evidence related to pipe bomb attacks, but the main focus of responders is the safety of the public and current pipe bomb render-safe techniques often limit the amount of evidence that can be collected. Not so with SAPBER (say-ber). Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels and al-Qaeda Alliance Becomes More Likely

August 19th 2012

al Qaeda Fighters

Syrian rebels on Thursday warned the U.S. and the European Unions they will turn to al-Qaeda if the West fails to provide aid -- including weapons -- to them, according to reports. The U.S. and other nations' hesitancy to provide meaningful aid to the Syrian rebels battling the Assad government troops in a bloodbath within nation's largest city, Aleppo, could very well cause the rebels to turn to al-Qaeda terrorists who continue to pour into Syria from Iraq, according to a counterterrorism source in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

"My colleagues overseas tell me that fighters from al-Qaeda's Iraqi faction have been sneaking into the country for at least a year in hopes of taking control of the civil war and then takeover the new government once the Syrian president and his minions are imprisoned or executed," said the veteran counterterrorist. During the Iraq War, Syria was used as a base of operations for al-Qaeda in Iraq during the most violent and destructive days of that war, according to Thomas Angeleno, who served as a police advisor under former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was contracted to help create the first stages of the Baghdad Police during the early days of the Hussein ouster. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

US Troops Armed at all Times in Afganistan

August 18th 2012

Army in Afghanistan

Gen. John Allen, commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has taken the drastic step of ordering all American troops to be armed at all times -- even when within U.S. or coalition bases -- as a way to protect against increasing insider attacks.

The order, according to reports by CNN, states that all U.S. personnel will carry a weapon plus a magazine of ammunition around the clock. The weapons will be carried in formerly secured areas, CNN reports, such as U.S. headquarters in Kabul and other coalition and Afghan government installations around the country.

Allen issued the order on Saturday, a day after two members of a U.S. special operations group were killed by a local recruit to the Afghan police force in Western Afghanistan. The two soldiers assigned to a U.S. special forces team assigned to train and equip local police forces in Farah province, were unarmed when they were shot and killed by Mohammad Ismail on Friday. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Step Up Efforts to Get Anti-Aircraft Missiles

August 18th 2012

Syrian Rebels

Syrian rebels are redoubling their efforts to acquire portable anti-aircraft missiles following government airstrikes on cities and towns in the north of the country. In the latest such strike, a Syrian Air Force jet bombed the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100. Rebel commanders and activists say their buyers are now scouring the arms black markets in the region to get the shoulder-fired missiles that can counter the government airstrikes.

According to opposition activist “Tony” al-Taieb, who works with the rebel military council in Aleppo, representatives with cash from rich Syrian exiles are negotiating to buy the portable surface-to-air missiles, often called SAMS or MANPADS, for “Man-Portable-Air-Defense-System.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear about the Qataris and Saudis supplying us with heavier weaponry,” al-Taieb says. “We are getting hardly anything from them.” Al-Taieb said acquiring as many MANPADS missile systems as possible was now the highest priority for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella organization for many of the rebel brigades that have been trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the past 18 months. He said the government airstrikes on Aleppo, Azaz, Tel Rifat and villages such as Akhtarin and other settlements closer to the Turkish border were apparently designed to menace the rebel enclave in the region and disrupt rebel supply routes from Turkey. Military analysts say shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles can turn the tide of battle in an insurgency war like the one in Syria. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Targeting Tribal Leaders: A New Militant Tactic in Sinai

August 17th 2012

haqqani terrorists

Militants killed Egyptian tribal leader Khalaf al-Menahy and his son Aug. 13 as the two were returning from a conference in east Sinai organized and attended by tribal leaders to denounce militancy, according to Sinai security forces. The senior al-Menahy was a prominent proponent of bolstering the Sinai Peninsula's representation in Egypt's parliament and of improving security in the region. He also was a prominent sheikh in the Sawarka tribe, said to be the largest in Sinai. Following his burial Aug. 13, the tribe vowed to seek vengeance. This is the first reported case of militants attacking tribal leaders in Sinai. It comes soon after an attack on Egyptian security forces Aug. 5 and an attack on military checkpoints in northern Sinai on Aug. 8.

Although the militant tactic of targeting tribal leaders is new to Sinai, the tactic has been common in conflict zones in the Middle East and South Asia, such as in Yemen, Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Though it can offer many benefits to these militants -- including weakening the targeted tribe and possibly leading to its co-option -- these kinds of attacks tend to only succeed in zones with little government control and against tribes that cannot effectively retaliate. Examining similar instances of this tactic thus provides a helpful tool for assessing the consequences of attacks against tribal elements in the Sinai Peninsula. Read more ..


The Edge of Defense

Dissent among Republicans over Defense Spending

August 17th 2012

B-2 Bomber

Grover Norquist, influential Republican Washington lobbyist, is advising his party’s lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike. His remarks this week were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense, that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget—with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.

Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security. “You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Google and Apple Enable Hezbollah and Hamas Pro-Terrorism "Apps" on their Phones

August 17th 2012

Smart phone

Terrorism watchers have expressed concern about Hezbollah re-launching its smart phone applications, which were previously removed by Apple and Google. The Anti-Defamation League was the first to report on such apps, which first appeared on July 25 and directs users to con­tent from Al-Manar, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization’s satel­lite tele­vi­sion sta­tion that broad­casts mes­sages of hate and vio­lence. Apple and Google later removed the app.

In a statement just issued blaming ADL for the failure of its previous efforts, Al-Manar said the app has been rereleased for the Android operating system and is “back on Ipad and Iphone applications via alternative ways, following the campaign carried out by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to deactivate Al-Manar applications on smart phones at Google Play and apple store.”

The ADL stated in a letter, “As terrorist groups adapt to new technologies and figure out ways to circumvent restrictions, it is critical for the industry to take appropriate action to ensure that their services are not exploited by terror organizations.” Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director added, “We will continue to monitor and expose how Hezbollah and other ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions use cur­rent tech­nol­ogy to spread their vio­lent mes­sages and to work with Internet service companies to see to it that terrorists don’t succeed in evading industry safeguards designed to prevent the use of these platforms to promote terrorism. Now more than ever, the stakes are too high to be complacent.” Read more ..



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