27 August 2014

Iran supplied arms to Kurdish forces; Baghdad bomb kills 15

Aug 27, 2014 | 

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters look at a map as they hold a position near the strategic Jalawla area in Diyala province, Iraq. -AFP

Iran has supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The direct arming of Kurdish forces is a contentious issue because some Iraqi politicians have said they suspect Kurdish leaders have aspirations to break away from the central government completely. The move could also be seen by some as a prelude to Iran taking a more direct role in broader Iraqi conflict.

“We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,” Mr Barzani said.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State (IS), have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Earlier in the day, a car bomb ripped through a crowded Baghdad intersection during morning rush hour on Tuesday, killing 15 people and wounding at least 37, security and medical officials said.

The ISIS, which controls large swathes of northern and western Iraq, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the New Baghdad neighbourhood on Monday and said in a statement that the attack was carried out as revenge for an attack against a Sunni mosque in Diyala on Friday which killed 68 and wounded dozens.

The Iranian foreign minister held talks with Mr Barzani on Tuesday, one day after visiting senior Shia clerics in southern Iraq.

First American jihadi dies fighting for ISIL in Syria

California-born Douglas McAuthur McCain has become the first American jihadi to have died in Syria while fighting for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a terrorist outfit that has gained control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The death of the 33-year-old American has left many top US officials seriously concerned.

“We were aware of US Citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain’s presence in Syria and can confirm his death. We continue to use every tool we possess to disrupt and dissuade individuals from travelling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return,” Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson of the National Security Council, the White House said.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, McCain died in a battle between rival extremist groups in the suburbs of Aleppo, the commercial capital and largest city of Syria.

His uncle, Ken McCain told the CNN that Douglas McCain converted from Christianity to Islam several years ago.

The fact that he became a jihadi left his family “devastated” and “just as surprised as the country,” the uncle said.

The US intelligence agencies had been warning about such involvements for the past several years, particularly after the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, in which an American jihadi David Headley played a key role.

The US estimates say that there are about 100 American passport holders who are fighting for ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

The US intelligence agencies and security experts have cautioned the national leadership against the increasing threat posed by home grown terrorists.

While McCain is the first American jihadi to have died fighting for ISIL in Syria, he is not the only one.

Moner Mohammad Abu-alha, 22, who grew up and went to school in Florida died in a northern Syria suicide bombing.

Born in Southern California in January 1981, McCain moved with his family to Minnesota where he attended school.

UN chief welcomes Gaza truce deal

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

"A brighter future for Gaza and Israel depends on a sustainable ceasefire. It is up to the parties to live up to this responsibility," Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday welcomed the ceasefire deal reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

“A brighter future for Gaza and Israel depends on a sustainable ceasefire. It is up to the parties to live up to this responsibility,” Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement.

“After 50 days of profound human suffering and devastating physical destruction, any violations of the ceasefire would be utterly irresponsible,”Xinhua reported citing the spokesman.

The conflict in Gaza ended Tuesday after Israel and the Palestinians agreed on an open-ended ceasefire, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic loss of life.

“The secretary-general remains hopeful that the extended ceasefire will act as a prelude to a political process as the only way of achieving durable peace,” the statement said.

“Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence,” he stressed.

Israel launched a large-scale air, sea and ground military operations July 8 in Gaza in response to rockets fired into its land from the coastal enclave.

The Gaza health ministry said Israel has killed 2,140 Palestinians and wounded 11,100 others in the offensive.

On the other side, Israel said Gaza militants killed 69 Israelis, including 64 soldiers and five civilians.

Hamas chief backs International Criminal Court bid

August 23, 2014

In last two days, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held meetings in Qatar with the top Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal.

There was no immediate reaction from Israel, which has opposed involving the court.

Hamas has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court, two senior officials in the group said on Saturday.

Such a step could expose Israel as well as Hamas to war crimes investigations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has debated for months whether to join the court, a step that would transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile.

Last month, Abbas obtained written pledges of support from his Fatah movement and other factions in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and said he would also seek the formal backing of Hamas, his main political rival.

Hamas said for several weeks that it was studying the idea. If Abbas were to turn to the court, Hamas could be investigated for its indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel for more than a decade, while Israel could come under scrutiny for its actions in the current Gaza war as well as its settlement building on war-won lands.

In last two days, Abbas held meetings in Qatar with the top Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal.

Early on Saturday, a senior Hamas leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, wrote on his Facebook page that “Hamas has signed the paper” of support Abbas had requested.

Another Hamas official, Izzat Rishq, confirmed the document was signed. Abu Marzouk’s post was reported on Hamas news websites.

Abu Marzouk and Rishq did not explain Hamas’ reasons for agreeing to support a Palestinian membership bid.

There was no comment from Abbas aides and no immediate reaction from Israel, which has opposed involving the court.

Turning to the International Criminal Court became an option for Abbas in 2012, after the UN General Assembly recognized “Palestine” in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands captured by Israel in 1967, as a non-member observer state. The upgrade to a state opened the door to requesting the court’s jurisdiction in Palestine.

Senior figure admits Hamas role in Israeli teen killings

August 21, 2014 

Hamas had so far refrained from taking responsibility for abduction and murder of Israeli teen. 

The official admitted that the group's military wing was behind the murders of the three Israeli teenagers.

A senior Hamas official has admitted the militant group’s involvement in the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli youngsters which sparked off the current violence in Gaza, contrary to the outfit’s earlier claims that it had nothing to do with the killings.

Salach Al-Aruri, considered a senior figure in Hamas, boasted at a conference in Istanbul on Wednesday that the group’s military wing was behind the kidnapping and murders of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June, the Ha’aretz daily reported.

A video captured during the conference shows Aruri, who is based in Turkey, saying that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, was responsible for the abduction of the three youths, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Sha’ar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the report said.

The kidnapping sparked an extensive Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank and marked the beginning of the recent upsurge in violence that has claimed more than 2,100 lives in the past nine weeks.

“It has been said that it is an Israeli conspiracy, and I say it isn’t,” Aruri said at the conference.

“The al-Qassam’s mujahedeen were the ones to carry out (the abduction) in show of support for the prisoners’ hunger strike,” he added, referring to Palestinians jailed in Israel.

The remarks were made during an event organised by the World Association of Muslim Scholars, the daily said.

Hamas had so far refrained from taking responsibility for the abduction and murder, even though it had expressed support for the attack.

Aruri’s name came up as a possible key player in the abductions shortly after the incident.

He has served a 16-year prison sentence in Israel and was consequently expelled from the country.

Some media reports on Monday claimed that Aruri had recruited the head of a Hamas network in the West Bank, ninety-three of whose members have been arrested since May.

  1. Israel Defence Forces (IDF) earlier this week demolished the houses of two suspects in the teens’ kidnapping and murders, Hussam Kawasama and Amer Abu Aisha, while sealing off the entrance to the cellar where a third suspect, Marwan Kawasama, resided.

Israeli aircraft bomb Gaza, five Palestinians killed

 August 23, 2014

A ball of fire rises following an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza, in the northern Gaza Strip.  

The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-dominated strip.

Israeli aircraft bombed the Gaza Strip on Saturday and Palestinian militants fired rockets at the Jewish state, the military said, with no end in sight to the deadliest violence between the sides in years.

Gaza health officials said five people were killed in an Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza. The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-dominated strip, including rocket launchers and weapon caches.
Smoke and dust rise after an Israeli strike hits Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday threatened to escalate the fight against Hamas, vowing the militant group would “pay a heavy price” after a four-year-old Israeli boy was killed by a mortar attack from Gaza.

Indirect negotiations between Israel and Gaza militant groups to end the conflict, brokered by Egypt, collapsed on Tuesday with no sign of any resumption ahead.

Europe's Slow Surrender to Intolerance

AUG 22, 2014 

On the one hand, it is completely unsurprising that Europe has become a swamp of anti-Jewish hostility. It is, after all, Europe. Anti-Jewish hostility has been its metier for centuries. (Yes, the locus of much anti-Jewish activity today is within Europe’s large Muslim-immigrant population; but the young men who threaten their Jewish neighbors draw on the language and traditions of European anti-Semitism as much as they do on Muslim modes of anti-Semitic thought.)

On the other hand, the intensity, and velocity, of anti-Jewish invective -- and actual anti-Jewish thuggery -- has surprised even Eurocynics such as myself. “Jews to the gas,” a chant heard at rallies in Germany, still has the capacity to shock. So do images of besieged synagogues and looted stores. And testimony from harassed rabbis and frightened Jewish children.

But I find myself most bothered by what seems to have been, on the surface, a relatively minor incident. The episode took place last weekend at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London. Protesters assembled outside the store to call for a boycott of Israeli-made goods. Quickly, the manager ordered employees to empty the kosher food section. One account suggests that a staff member, when asked about the empty shelves, said “We support Free Gaza.” Other reports suggest that the manager believed that demonstrators might invade the store and trash it. (There is precedent to justify his worry.)

After a good deal of publicity following the incident, Sainsbury’s apologized to its Jewish customers. “This will not happen again,” its corporate affairs director, Trevor Datsun, said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat.”

Why do I find this incident to be more disturbing then, say, reportedattacks on kippah-wearing Jews, or the scrawling of swastikas onJewish shops?

To the extent that it suggests that Israel and Judaism have been thoroughly conflated in the minds of many Europeans, the Sainsbury's kosher controversy is similar to other recent incidents. Kosher products -- in the case of the Sainsbury’s branch in question, some apparently from the U.K. and Poland -- were intuitively understood to be stand-ins for Israel itself, just as French Jewish males wearing kippot were understood by their attackers to be stand-ins for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

We have learned a number of unfortunate truths about the nature of the global anti-Israel movement this summer. One is that the war in Gaza is understood by many to be a continuation of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and not of the 1967 Six Day War. Which is to say, many protesters are challenging Israel’s very right to exist, not its policies in the territories it came to occupy in 1967 (or in Gaza’s case, territory it occupied in 1967 and then turned over to Palestinians in 2005). A second is that the line separating anti-Zionism -- the belief that Jews have no right to an independent state in at least part of their ancestral homeland -- and anti-Judaism, already reed-thin, has pretty much vanished.

Iran Claims to Have Shot Down an Israeli Reconnaissance Drone Near Its Natanz Nuclear Enrichment Facility

August 25, 2014 
Iran says it shoots down Israeli spy drone 

DUBAI, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Iran said on Sunday it had shot down an Israeli spy drone that was heading for its Natanz nuclear enrichment site, Iranian media reported. 

"The downed aircraft was of the stealth, radar-evasive type and it intended to penetrate the off-limits nuclear area in Natanz … but was targeted by a ground-to-air missile before it managed to enter the area," state news agency ISNA said, citing a statement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. 

The Natanz facility is one issue at the heart of a long-running dispute between Iran and countries that believe it is seeking nuclear weapons capability, something Tehran denies. 

Iran and six world powers are trying to negotiate an end to the standoff which has led to damaging economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. 

Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, demands Iran be stripped of all nuclear technologies, something Tehran rules out and which most foreign diplomats deem unrealistic. 

Iran has accused Israel and its allies in the West of assassinating its nuclear scientists and attacking its nuclear sites with computer viruses. 

Israel has always declined comment on such accusations and on Sunday its military said it did not comment on foreign reports. 

The Revolutionary Guards said of the drone incursion: “This wily act further exposed the Zionist regime’s adventurous temperament and added yet another black page to a record filled with crime and mischief.” 

If confirmed, an aircraft built by Israel’s state-owned Aerospace Industries known as the Heron, or the more powerful Heron TP, is likely to have been involved for such a long-range mission. Military commanders in Israel have described both as a possible means of monitoring Iran and other countries. 

In December 2012, Iran said it had captured a U.S. intelligence ScanEagle drone, but the United States said at the time there was no evidence to support the assertion. 

In December 2011, Iran said it had captured a U.S. RQ-170 reconnaissance drone which was reported lost by U.S. forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. 

Iranian commanders have since announced they had extracted technology from the aircraft and were reverse-engineering it for their own defence industry. 

In 2010, Iran’s nuclear facilities were hit by a virus known as Stuxnet, which was widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, though no government took responsibility for it. 

In March of this year, pumps at Iran’s planned Arak reactor, seen by the West as a potential source of plutonium that could be used in nuclear bombs, were subjected to a failed sabotage attempt, a senior Iranian official said.

Britain’s Nuclear Weapons Future at Stake in Upcoming Scottish Independence Vote

Griff Witte
August 25, 2014
Britain’s Trident nuclear program at stake in Scottish independence vote

Nuclear submarine HMS Vanguard arrives back at the naval base in Faslane, Scotland following a patrol. (Courtesy of Ministry of Defense) 

HELENSBURGH, Scotland — For decades, Britain’s contribution to the threat of global Armageddon has found a home on the tranquil shores of Gare Loch, where soaring green mountains plunge into murky gray waters plied by sporty kayakers, weekend yachtsmen — and nuclear-armed submarines. 

The subs slip past this garrison town as quietly as sea monsters. Their dark hulls breach the water’s surface on their way from base out to the deepest oceans, where British naval crews spend months poised to unleash the doomsday payload. 

But if Scotland votes “yes” in an independence referendum next month, the submarines could ­become nuclear-armed nomads, without a port to call home. Washington’s closest and most important ally could, in turn, be left without the ultimate deterrent, even as Europe’s borders are being rattled anew by a resurgent Russia. 

Former NATO secretary general George Robertson, a Scotsman, said in a speech in Washington earlier this year that a vote for independence would be “cataclysmic” for Western security, and that ejecting the nuclear submarines from Scotland would amount to “disarming the remainder of the United Kingdom.” 

The pro-independence campaign promptly accused Robertson of hyperbolic scaremongering. But the possibility that Britain could become the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council without a nuclear deterrent underscores just how much is at stake far beyond these silent bays and verdant ridgelines when Scotland’s 5 million residents go to the polls Sept. 18. 

“The loss of Scotland would be a massive thing for the U.K. — far bigger than the 10 percent of the population that Scotland represents,” said Phillips O’Brien, who directs the Scottish Center for War Studies at the University of Glasgow. “It would have a profound effect on both the external and internal view of what the U.K. represents. And the nukes are a big part of that.” 

Ukraine Says That Its Troops Are Battling an Armored Column That Just Crossed the Border From Russia

August 25, 2014 
Ukraine crisis: ‘Column from Russia’ moves on Mariupol 
BBC News 

The Ukrainian military says it is battling rebel armoured vehicles that crossed from Russia and headed to the south-eastern city of Mariupol. 

It said the column was halted near the town of Novoazovsk. 

One military commander said pro-Russian rebels might be trying to open up a new southern front. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he not heard the reports but complained of regular “disinformation about our ‘incursions’”. 

He also said Russia planned to send another humanitarian convoy into eastern Ukraine “in the next few days” as the humanitarian situation there was “deteriorating”. 

Its first convoy, which returned at the weekend, crossed the border without Ukraine’s authorisation. Ukraine feared the convoy was carrying military equipment to the pro-Russian separatists and denounced it as an invasion. 

More than 2,000 people have died in recent months in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists. Some 330,00 people have been displaced. 

The Russian and Ukrainian presidents are scheduled to meet in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday for talks on the crisis. 

'Enough resources' 

Ukraine’s military said border guards had halted the column about 5km (3 miles) north-east of Novoazovsk, which is about 10km from the border in the far south-east of Ukraine. 

Heavy clashes were reported at the village of Markyne. 

One commander of a Ukrainian national guard unit in the area told Reuters news agency: “A war has broken out here.” 

A pro-Russian rebel displays a flag in central Donetsk 

Ukrainian sources said the armoured vehicles had crossed the border bearing symbols of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic. Officials said 10 tanks and two armoured personnel carriers were in the column although other reports said the number of vehicles was as high as 30. 

Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces, who ousted rebels from the city in June after weeks of fighting. 

A Ukrainian military spokesman said government forces still controlled Mariupol and the road to Novoazovsk. 

Has the Rebellion in the Eastern Ukraine Reached Its Final Stages?

Ukrainian military moves to endgame
Tim Ripley
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
August 22, 2014

Ukrainian soldiers rest in their 2S19 MSTA-S self-propelled howitzers on 14 August before moving to the front line in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Source: AP/PA
Key Points 
Government forces are continuing to gain the upper hand in eastern Ukraine 
Both sides are using heavy weapons in the worst fighting witnessed in Europe since the Balkan conflict 

Ukrainian troops have continued their offensive aimed at clearing pro-Russian rebels from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions despite strong resistance.

Both the Ukrainian and rebel forces are using tracked armour, heavy artillery, and rockets in the heaviest fighting seen in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

The operation by Ukrainian troops, underway for more than a month, has pushed deep into rebel-held regions, with fighting now reported in the suburbs of the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk for several days. Reports on 20 August indicated that in Lugansk, Ukrainian troops had recaptured a central city police station.

Ukrainian forces appear to be trying to cut rebel forces in the two cities off from each other, as well as severing land routes to the Russian border to block supplies and reinforcements from reaching them.

The rebel setbacks of the past weeks have prompted three prominent rebel leaders - including their military commander, Igor Girkin, known as Strelkov; the political leader in Donetsk, Alexander Borodai; and the rebel head in Lugansk, Valery Bolotov - to step down.

The Organization for Security in Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reported daily artillery fire in both Donetsk and Lugansk for more than a week, as well as regular breakdowns in power, water, telephone, and other utilities because of the fighting.

Rebel fighters claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jet near Lugansk on 17 August, although a Kiev government spokesman reported that the pilot was rescued by friendly forces. A further air loss occurred on 20 August when a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft was shot down over Lugansk, with the pilot reported missing.

China Trying to Curb Corruption In Its Military Officer Corps

August 25, 2014
China Goes To War With Its Generals
August 25, 2014

Retired Chinese military officers have been ordered to return government real estate they have been using without permission. This involves the corrupt practice of retired officers receiving the use of additional residential property as an informal retirement benefit. This is another form of corruption in the military and was discovered when the government conducted a thorough audit of government owned residential property in areas where informants had indicated retired officers were up to no good. This is part of an effort, begun in 2012, to put a major dent into the corrupt practices found in the military.

This latest effort to curb corruption in the military went into high gear in 2012 as the government introduced new rules which compelled senior military officers to disclose their personal financial details. This was an embarrassing admission by the government that they did not trust their own officers. Corruption in the military has been a problem in China for thousands of years. The communists thought they had cured it but after they took control of China in the late 1940s the rot began to reappear. There have been several major efforts since then to keep the corruption from getting out of hand and doing serious damage to combat capabilities. This latest public anti-corruption effort is an indicator that the government believes the generals and admirals are a little too corrupt.

The 2012 disclosure rules were the result of a decision several years earlier to make a major effort to curb corruption in the military. By 2012 this led to the military establishing a research effort, at their National Defense University, to study past and potential anti-corruption efforts. As the military budget has doubled in the since 2000, corruption has kept pace; despite several major anti-corruption campaigns. The new research effort included a permanent center for the study of what anti-corruption methods worked, which ones did not, and try to figure out why. China is determined to keep after corruption in the military, not just make a few major moves then let the corrupt officers and troops get back to business.

The 2012 disclosure rules led to the discovery of several senior officers who were taking bribes from suppliers and officers seeking jobs in logistics (where there were more opportunities to steal). This happened despite earlier efforts to curb these ancient practices. The investigation and prosecution of several senior generals indicated that the most senior military officers are not immune to the law. In 2012 more anti-corruption inspections of military bases were ordered, to include all who worked there. These are audits seeking to detect corrupt practices and find out who was responsible. Since 2012 more audits have been ordered, often without any publicity.

China moves closer to developing supersonic submarine: Report

Aug 25, 2014

The supercavitation, torpedo called Shakval was able to reach a speed of 370km or more - much faster than any other conventional torpedoes. 

BEIJING: China has moved a step closer to creating a supersonic submarine that could travel from Shanghai to San Francisco covering nearly 9,900km in less than two hours, a Chinese scientist has said. 

New technology being developed by a team of scientists at Harbin Institute of Technology's Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab could make it easier for a submarine or torpedo, to travel at extremely high speeds underwater, the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post reported on Sunday. 

The distance from Shanghai in eastern China to San Francisco in western US is about 9,873km. Li Fengchen, professor of fluid machinery and engineering, said the team's innovative approach meant they could now create the complicated air "bubble" required for rapid underwater travel. 

"We are very excited by its potential," he said. During the Cold War, the Soviet military developed a technology called supercavitation, which involves enveloping a submerged vessel inside an air bubble to avoid problems caused by water drag. The supercavitation, torpedo called Shakval was able to reach a speed of 370km or more — much faster than any other conventional torpedoes. Li said the team of Chinese scientists had found an innovative means to address problems like designing a submerged vessel to travel at high speeds to generate and maintain the air bubble with a rudder placed within it to avoid direct contact with water. 

Its application so far limited to unmanned vessels, such as torpedoes, but nearly all of these torpedoes were fired in a straight line because they had limited ability to turn. Once in the water, the team's supercavitation vessel would constantly "shower" a special liquid membrane on its own surface. 

Although this membrane would be worn off by water, in the meantime it could significantly reduce the water drag on the vessel at low speed, Li said. After its speed had reached 75kmph or more the vessel would enter the supercavitation state. The man-made liquid membrane on the vessel surface could help with steering because, with precise control, different levels of friction could be created. "Our method is different from any other approach, such as vector propulsio," Li said. 

Libyan Capital of Tripoli Now Controlled by Islamist Militant Militias

Chris Stephen and Anne Penketh
The Guardian
August 25, 2014
Libyan capital under Islamist control after Tripoli airport seized

Libya has lurched ever closer to fragmentation and civil war this weekend after Islamist-led militias seized the airport in the capital, Tripoli, proclaimed their own government, and presented the world with yet another crisis.

Operation Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misrata forces, captured the airport on Saturday in fierce fighting against pro-government militias after a five-week siege that battered parts of the capital.

Television images from the scene showed jubilant, bearded, militias dancing on wrecked airliners, firing machine guns in the air and chanting “Allah O Akbar” (“God is great”).

On Sunday, they set airport buildings ablaze, apparently intending to destroy rather than hold the site.

The victory, which secures Islamist control over Tripoli, was a culmination of weeks of fighting triggered by elections in July, lost by Islamist parties.

Rather than accept the elections result Islamist leaders in Libya accused the new parliament of being dominated by supporters of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and have sought to restore the old national congress.

"The general national congress will hold an emergency meeting in Tripoli to save the country," said Omar Ahmidan, a congress spokesman.

Libya’s official parliament, the house of representatives, in the eastern city of Tobruk, denounced the attack as illegal, branding Dawn a “terrorist organisation” and announcing a state of war against the group. The move leaves Libya with two governments, one in Tripoli, and one in the east of the country, each battling for the hearts and minds of the country’s myriad militias.

ISIS Consolidating Its Control in Eastern Syria - One Last Syrian Army Stronghold Holds Out

Bill Roggio
August 25, 2014
Islamic State fighters assault last Syrian stronghold in Raqqah

The Islamic State is close to cementing its control in the eastern Syrian province of Raqqah today after it overran the Tabqa military airport. The airbase is the last Syrian military stronghold in Raqqah.

Islamic State fighters “took control over wide areas of the airbase” after launching a massed assault earlier today, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A number of Syrian soldiers and allied “militiamen” withdrew “towards Athraya Area” after heavy fighting. Syrian warplanes attacked Islamic State fighters inside and outside of the airbase, indicating the military has lost control of the facility.

This Islamic State removed a nearby checkpoint to allow Syrian forces “an attempt to give the regime forces a path in order to retreat from the airbase and to avoid the violent clashes with them inside the airbase,” the Observatory later reported. “The warplanes that were in the airbase of [Tabqa] have been towed to another airbase in the Syrian Badeya and to the Military Airport of Deir Ezzor.”

The jihadists “took control” of the base “almost completely,” the Observatory said in a later update.

The Islamic State took heavy casualties during the fighting. According to the Observatory, over 100 Islamic State fighters were killed and 300 more were wounded. Twenty-five Syrian soldiers were killed and dozens more were wounded.

5 Top Pakistani Military Commanders Are Retiring, Including the Director of the Pakistani Intelligence Service

August 25, 2014

ISLAMABAD: In the coming months of October and November, there will be high-level changes in the military top brass as four corps commanders, as well as the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will shed their uniforms.

The outgoing officials include Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani, Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani, Corps Commander Mangla Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Corp Commander Gujranwala Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz and the ISI’s Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam.

According to sources, these officers may be replaced with some principal staff officers serving in the General Headquarters as well as newly promoted officers

The sources say that the officials, who may be considered for the position of DG ISI, may include Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Naseer Janjua, Corps Commander Lahore Lt Gen Naveed Zaman, DG Rangers Sindh Maj Gen Rizwan and Maj Gen Hilal.

National Defence University’s (NDU) chief Lt Gen Javed Iqbal, Chief of General Staff and former DGMO Lt Gen Ashfaq Ahmed Nadeem and Maj Gen Nazeer Butt are expected to be considered for the position of corps commander Peshawar.

An official in the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) confirmed that some senior officials were due to retire in the coming months. He termed these retirements and promotions as routine events.

Backgrounder: Obama’s ‘Evolving’ Views on the Threat Poses by ISIS

Kristina Wong
August 25, 2014
Obama’s evolution on ISIS threat

The Obama administration says the nation is facing a threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that, in the words of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is “beyond anything we’ve seen.”

Earlier this year, however, President Obama was dismissing ISIS as the junior varsity of al Qaeda. The White House on Friday suggested that assessment is now moot because the group has “gained capacity in the last several months.”

A timeline of remarks this year from Obama and other administration officials show an evolution of thinking on ISIS — a change critics say has not come fast enough:

Jan. 27: Obama calls Al-Qaeda inspired groups “jayvee”

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. … I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian,” Obama said in an interview with The New Yorker.

The next day, during the State of the Union address, Obama said that even as the U.S. “aggressively” pursues terrorist networks, “America must move off permanent war footing.”

Feb. 7: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson calls ISIS a “matter of homeland security”

"Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict. At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission. … Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” Johnson said at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

May 28: Obama says Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists are today’s “principal threat”

The situation in Syria: Then and Now

25 Aug , 2014

The wave of Arab unrest that began with the Tunisian revolution reached Syria on March 15, 2011, when residents of a small southern city took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti. The government responded with heavy-handed force, and demonstrations quickly spread across much of the country.

What cannot be ignored, though, is the fact that ISIS has spelled out India’s name as one of its prime targets outside Iraq, Syria, and the Levant. Ignoring the ISIS will only be at our own peril.

President Bashar al-Assad, a British-trained doctor who inherited Syria’s harsh dictatorship from his father, Hafez al-Assad, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April 2011, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he set off the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns, sending tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on demonstrators. In retrospect, the attacks appeared calculated to turn peaceful protests violent, to justify an escalation of force.

Neither the government violence nor Mr. Assad’s offers of political reform — rejected as shams by protest leaders — have brought an end to the unrest. Similarly, the protesters have not been able to overcome direct assault by the military’s armed forces or to seize and hold significant chunks of territory.

In the summer of 2011, as the crackdown dragged on, thousands of soldiers defected and began launching attacks against the government, bringing the country to what the United Nations in December called the verge of civil war. An opposition government in exile was formed, the Syrian National Council, but the council’s internal divisions have kept Western and Arab governments from recognizing it as such. The opposition remains a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, divided along ideological, ethnic or sectarian lines.

The conflict is complicated by Syria’s ethnic divisions. The Assads and much of the nation’s elite, especially the military, belong to the Alawite sect, a minority in a mostly Sunni country. While the Assad government has the advantage of crushing firepower and units of loyal, elite troops, the insurgents should not be underestimated. They are highly motivated and, over time, demographics should tip in their favor. Alawites constitute about 12 percent of the 23 million Syrians. Sunni Muslims, the opposition’s backbone, make up about 75 percent of the population.

From bases in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border, the flow of weapons, medical supplies and money increased.

Against Putin, It's Time to Channel JFK

August 22, 2014

Obama needs to hark back to Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

During the Cold War, West Berlin was militarily indefensible and symbolically vital. Had the Soviet Union wanted to, it could have defeated the token American, British and French garrisons in the city in a couple of days. West Berlin’s best and only defense was the Soviet belief – probably correct – that the result of aggression would be World War III.

It was for that reason President John F. Kennedy proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963 after the Berlin Wall cut the city in two, threatening to throttle the Western enclave. The Soviet Union had to believe that the West still really cared about the grungy, grumpy former German capital, just as we had done during the Berlin airlift of 1948.

A half century later, there are new and urgent reasons to invoke JFK’s famous speech. On Friday, the escalating confrontation between the West and Russia lurched into more perilous territory when more than 100 Russian “aid” trucks crossed the Ukrainian border, headed toward the separatist-held enclave of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Using notably strong language, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the “so-called humanitarian convoy” constituted “a blatant breach of Russia’s international commitments,” and he accused Russia of firing artillery at Ukrainian forces while orchestrating a dramatic arms buildup.

But a statement from Brussels, while welcome, will not suffice. It is long past time for Washington to deliver its own stern message to Moscow. When President Barack Obama visits Estonia next month, he should channel Kennedy, and proclaim something on the lines of “Eestlane olen ja eestlaseks jään” (“I am and will remain an Estonian” – the chorus of a popular patriotic song). Estonia, along with its neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, is the new West Berlin of Europe. Russia resents their very existence, seeing the former Soviet satrapies as a dangerous bastion of NATO and European Union influence. Even before Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia was a discomfiting neighbor. In the early 1990s it dragged its feet on withdrawing the occupation forces the Kremlin installed in the Baltic states in 1940. It has mounted a succession of economic sanctions, domestic political subversion and propaganda offensives. In 2009 Russian military exercises rehearsed the invasion and occupation of the Baltic states. For good measure, the drill included a dummy nuclear attack on Warsaw.

With a combined population of 7 million, no air force or heavy armor, the thin, flat strip of land that constitutes the three nations’ territory on the east coast of the Baltic Sea is a military nightmare from a defensive point of view – and a dream for attackers. There is no strategic depth: The Balts have their backs to the sea and no hinterland to retreat to. With a surprise attack – something military planners take surprisingly seriously – Russians could be on the coast within three hours, presenting the West with a fait accompli.

British jihadists: How Britain became the Yemen of the West

23 Aug 2014

Britain’s role as a chief exporter of terror was made horrifically clear this week. We examine the key failings of government and security forces that allowed home-grown jihadists to flourish

The Japanese hostage lies pinned to the sandy ground, bleeding from two long, slashing cuts across his face – perhaps carried out with the same knife that one of his jihadist interrogators is now pointing at him. “Where are you from? Don’t lie to me!” shouts the man, in English. The alleged “regime soldier”, in civilian clothes, thrashes desperately against his captors as his throat is cut: an 18-minute snuff movie, complete with sound, of unwatchable horror, linked to a Twitter account apparently belonging to the British extremist Anjem Choudary.

Dreadful as the murder video of the journalist James Foley was, it is by no means the worst thing posted online by, or involving, British and Western jihadists this week. In the jihadists’ theatre of savagery, Britons and Westerners have for several months taken principal speaking parts.

The Foley video’s real significance, perhaps not fully understood in the general shock, is different. Until now, the Islamic State (Isil) has shown little interest in threatening the West. In that video, this started to change, with “John the Beatle” promising the “bloodshed of your people”. The ransom demand sent to Mr Foley’s family, published yesterday, is even more explicit: “Today our swords are unsheathed towards you, government and citizens alike,” it says.

The Afghan war, which has cost so many lives, was supposed to deny Islamist terrorism an operational base. Now the jihadists have a much better one – in Iraq and Syria, separated from us by a road journey and a short easyJet flight. It has been visited by up to 2,800 Westerners since February 2011 (the start of the Arab Spring) – “more than in all previous combat zones combined”, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London.

About 500 of these, a disproportionate number, are British (and a further 1,500 are EU citizens with travel rights to the UK). Just under 4,000 Britons – including 1,450 children – have been referred to the Government’s Channel programme, designed to divert those at risk of radicalisation, though only about 20 per cent (777) are assessed to be actually at risk of becoming involved in terrorism. The numbers have roughly doubled in the past two years.

How did Britain become such a wellspring of extremism, a Yemen of the West? And what can we do about the hundreds of radicalised, brutalised and combat-trained fellow citizens heading back to our shores?

Britain’s key failing is that it was tough where it should have been liberal, and liberal where it should have been tough. It extended detention without trial and stop-and-search: sweeping measures that affected everyone and left Muslims, most of whom are completely blameless, feeling under attack. At the same time, it was ridiculously tolerant and indulgent towards a small minority of Muslim radicals.


August 24, 2014 
Jihad In A Social Media Age: How Can The West Win An Online War?

James Foley’s murder highlights how the use of film, tweets and blogs to further the aims of Isis is now a major security issue

At first it reads like just another tweet extolling the power of social media. At 9am on Thursday, as news broke of the latest US air strikes in northern Iraq, its author likened the might of social networking to that of the “gun or sword”. But the mention of weaponry was not just a fancy bit of metaphor. Hundreds of jihadists currently fighting in the Middle East are believed to follow the Twitter account of Nasser Balochi, a Sunni Muslim and one of a proliferating army of tweeters doubling as online recruiting sergeants for the intensifying conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The confrontation between the west and Islamic State (Isis) will, like all military campaigns, be influenced by who wins the propaganda war for hearts and minds, and Islamic State’s online army – dubbed “the new disseminators” by radicalization experts – are providing crucial backup to the brutal Isis operatives in the field.

Last Tuesday Isis used YouTube to launch its video depicting the murder of US journalist James Foley – perhaps the most devastating social media salvo yet in a conflict punctuated by footage and images of torture, corpses, murder and visceral combat sequences. Never before has a conflict been played out in real time to a global audience. It is a phenomenon which last week’s macabre viewing has placed at the forefront of the minds of the west’s security services. The video’s deft editing and high production values cemented the credentials of Isis as a slick but shocking social media outfit, mixing barbaric content with a “jihadi cool” aesthetic.

Jamie Bartlett, director of the center for the analysis of social media at think tank Demos, identified a counter-culture, anti-establishment sentiment that manifested itself in “jihadi cool” posturing five years ago. The recent development, he says, is how Isis sympathizers have harnessed the immediacy and reach of social media to ensure its image is instantly and globally recognizable.

“These are young men in their 20s who have grown up with all this stuff,” he said. “They all know it’s not that hard to build an app, they know how important Twitter is, they know how to upload a really nasty YouTube video, and it’ll go viral quickly. It’s second nature to a lot of these young men, plus the lowering price of producing reasonably good-looking propaganda and sending it around the world is a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago.”

Balochi – whose Twitter profile has pictures of grenades and AK-47s, weapon of the mujahideen – is one of these technologically literate young fighters. In April 2014, as Isis was beginning to flex its muscles in northern Syria but remained unknown to many, an in-depth study named Balochi as a primary influence for Syria’s foreign fighter networks.

Academics at the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) tracked the extent to which the Syrian conflict was luring so many foreign fighters. They then examined the recruitment process, uncovering a stunningly straightforward process that often originated with a simple exchange of tweets.


August 23, 2014  

We didn’t know how much to fear al Qaeda — till after 9/11. Europe and the West underestimated Hitler and the Third Reich’s strategic intentions in 1939. Winston Churchill was pretty much a lone wolf in warning about Nazi Germany. By the time you get what the NFL calls indisputable, visual evidence, then you have major strategic problems on your hands. RCP

WASHINGTON – Earlier this year, President Obama likened the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball squad, a group that posed little of the threat once presented by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

With the rapid advance of ISIS across northern Iraq, and the release this week of a video showing one of the group’s operatives beheading an American journalist, the language Obama administration officials are using to describe the danger the terrorist group poses to the United States has become steadily more pointed. But some American officials and terrorism experts said that the ominous words overstated the group’s ability to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and that ISIS could be undone by its own brutality and nihilism.

Photo” They have a lot of attributes that should scare us: money, people, weapons and a huge swath of territory,” said Andrew Liepman, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation and former deputy head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “But when we’re surprised by a group, as we have been in this case, we tend to overreact.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria an “imminent threat.”CreditSaul Loeb/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

These notes of caution from inside the government and from terrorism watchers come as the White House considers expanding military action against ISIS, including possibly striking across the border in Syria.

American intelligence agencies are working on a thorough assessment of the group’s strength, and they believe that its ability to gain and hold territory could make it a long-term menace in the Middle East. Intelligence officials said there were indications that ISIS’ battlefield successes had attracted defectors from Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa, who are eager to join a group with momentum.

But experts say ISIS differs from traditional terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and its affiliates, primarily because it prefers enlarging what it calls its caliphate over discrete acts of terrorism. It has captured dams and oil fields, and has seized spoils of war like armored personnel carriers and tanks.


August 22, 2014 ·

US intelligence officials still know relatively little about the workings of Islamic State militants. James Foley may have been traded by insurgent groups before ending up in IS hands, which complicates the intelligence picture.

WASHINGTON – The failed attempt to rescue journalist James Foleybefore he was killed by Islamic State militants – and the ongoing efforts to track down other American hostages before it’s too late – illustrate a glaring shortcoming in US military capabilities: that good US military intelligence on these militant groups is in short supply.

Although the Pentagon greenlighted the deployment of Special Operations Forces (SOF) to Syria – along with the US military’s most high-tech air and ground components – the mission did not result in a rescue.

“Unfortunately, the mission was not successful, because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday evening.

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Even so, defense officials sought to put a positive spin on the mission. “This operation, by the way, was a flawless operation,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon. “But the hostages were not there.”

The Pentagon’s unusual confirmation of a failed Special Forces mission – made at the behest of the White House – was in large part an effort to reassure the American public that the United States has not sat idly by during the meteoric rise of the Islamic State (IS).

But the news drove home the point, too, that US intelligence officials still know relatively little about the workings of IS.

Pentagon officials bristled at this implication, however. “Was this a failure of intelligence? No,” Secretary Hagel insisted. “The fact is that intelligence does not come wrapped in a package with a bow. It is a mosaic of many pictures, many factors.”

The problem, he added in a favorite Pentagon maxim, is that “the enemy always has a say in everything.”

True, hostage rescue operations using Special Forces are “extraordinarily complicated” under any circumstances, says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a nonresident fellow in the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.