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Showing posts from January, 2013

The Consequences of Intervening in Syria

The French military's current campaign to dislodge jihadist militants from northern Mali and the recent high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign powers' decision not to intervene in Mali when the military conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in Moammar Gadhafi's military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.

As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military i…

U.S. officials failed to verify that fuel for Afghan forces did not come from Iran, report says

By Ernesto Londoño,

Jan 31, 2013 02:19 AM ESTThe Washington Post Thursday, January 31, 3:19 AM


American officials in Afghanistan have failed to verify that fuel purchased for Afghan security forces in recent years did not come from Iran, which would constitute a violation of U.S. sanctions, according to an inspector general report issued Wednesday.

The report warned that “it will become more difficult” to make sure assistance to Afghanistan complies with sanctions on Iran as the U.S. military footprint in the country continues to shrink over the next two years. The United States intends to start giving a fuel stipend for Afghan forces to the Afghan Ministry of Defense in March, rather than directly supplying units in the field.


“Our report again demonstrates the critical importance that oversight plays in the contracting process,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko said in a statement. “It is essential that the Department of Defense continues to implem…

New York Times says Chinese hackers hit its networks as paper investigated leader’s wealth

BEIJING — Chinese hackers repeatedly penetrated The New York Times’ computer systems over the past four months, stealing reporters’ passwords and hunting for files on an investigation into the wealth amassed by the family of a top Chinese leader, the newspaper reported.

Security experts hired to investigate and plug the breach found that the attacks used tactics similar to ones used in previous hacking incidents traced to China, the report said. It said the hackers routed the attacks through computers at U.S. universities, installed a strain of malicious software, or malware, associated with Chinese hackers and initiated the attacks from university computers previously used to attack U.S. military contractors.

The attacks, which began in mid-September, coincided with a Times investigation into how the relatives and family of Premier Wen Jiabao built a fortune worth over $2 billion. The report, which was posted online Oct. 25, embarrassed the Communist Party leadership, coming ahead of a…

Israel launches airstrike in Syria

An Israeli air force F-15 Eagle jet fighter plane takes off from Tel Nof air force base for a mission over Gaza Strip in central Israel, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)




JERUSALEM — Israeli aircraft struck inside Syria on Wednesday for the first time since 2007, according to Western and Syrian officials, in a development that underlined the risk that the civil war in Syria could spill over into a wider conflict.

There were conflicting reports about the target and its location. A Western official and a former Lebanese security official said earlier Wednesday that Israel had attacked inside Syria along the border with Lebanon, and the former Lebanese official said an unmanned aircraft had hit a truck carrying weapons. But in a later statement, the Syrian army denied a strike along the border and said instead that Israeli jets had bombed a defense research center near Damascus.

Israel declined to comment, as did U.S. officials, who deferred to Israel, a key security partn…

As 2014 NATO pullout approaches, more Afghans flee their homeland

KABUL — Sixteen years after he fled from the Taliban, Zia Ahmadi was back at the Kabul airport, waiting for the body of a cousin who tried to do the same.

Zia had done what he thought was best for his cousin, Javed Ahmadi, offering a smuggler $15,000 to shuttle him out of Afghanistan and away from insurgents. By December, Javed, 19, was halfway through an arduous 3,500-mile trip from Helmand province to Zia’s home in Sweden, running from the same Taliban that Zia escaped in 1997.

But the smuggler’s overloaded skiff capsized off the coast of Greece, and Javed’s body washed ashore with 21 others, nearly all of them Afghan refugees eager to leave their country before U.S. troops do next year. Now Zia was back in Kabul to bury his cousin.

Two decades after Afghanistan witnessed one of the 20th century’s most dramatic refugee crises, a quieter exodus is gaining momentum. Zia Ahmadi was part of the first generation of Afghan refugees. His cousin aspired to be part of the second.

Last year, at …

Switzerland allows fly-over by aircraft in Mali offensive

Switzerland said that it is allowing aircraft from countries involved in the military intervention in Mali to fly over its territory.

The green light also applies to planes transporting munition and arms, the official Bern statement issued on Wednesday said.

The decision "is compatible with Switzerland's neutrality because the ongoing military operations are being carried out at the Malian government's request and fall under the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2085," the statement said.

The resolution, adopted in late December, authorised the deployment of an African-led mission in Mali for one year.

The go-ahead comes as France is entering the final phase of its intervention to recapture the north from Islamist rebels.\

According to a spokesman for the Swiss federal civil aviation office in Bern, "a country" had submitted a request for the flights, but he did not specify which.

The last time Switzerland issued such permission was in 2011 during th…

French troops enter Kidal in northern Mali

Forces said to have taken control of town's airport, after driving out al-Qaeda-linked fighters from Gao and Timbuktu

French troops have taken control of the airport in the northern Malian town of Kidal, the last rebel stronghold in the north, according to the French army and a local official.

Thierry Burkhard, the French armed forces spokesman, confirmed on Wednesday that French troops were in Kidal and had taken control of the airport.

"The operation is ongoing," he said, declining to give further details.

Separately, Haminy Belco Maiga, president of the regional assembly of Kidal, speaking to Reuters news agency, said: "They arrived late last night and they deployed in four planes and some helicopters."

He said there were no immediate reports of resistance.

Kidal would be the last of northern Mali's major towns to be retaken by French forces after they reached Gao and Timbuktu earlier this week in a campaign to drive al-Qaeda-linked fighters from Mali'…

Syria confirms Israeli airstrike

Syrian army says an Israeli airstrike targeted a military research centre near Damascus, killing two people.

The Syrian army has said that Israeli jets crossed into Syria below the radar level at dawn and hit a military research centre in Jamraya, near Damascus.

"Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence," the army's general command said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA on Wednesday evening.

The strike came "after terrorist groups made several failed attempts in the past months to take control of the site," the statement added of rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace via Mount Hermon, or Jabal el-Sheikh in Arabic, the army said.

"They... carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroyin…

Revealing N Korea's gulag and nuclear sites

Google's newly updated maps show unprecedented detail in aerial imagery of isolated labour camps and missile launch pad

While citizen cartographers have been compiling detailed information on North Korea for years, on Monday Google announced the publication of mapping data that had previously been missing.

The release follows a private "humanitarian mission" by Google executive Eric Schmidt to Pyongyang with Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico.

After the trip, commentators speculated on the mix of business and political motives by Schmidt, while the US government emphasised that it had no connection to the visit. Commenting on what he saw, Schmidt criticised the North Korean decision to be "virtually isolated".

Schmidt was apparently unable to meet with a detained Korean-American, but said he urged the country to increase internet access. The country has minimal connectivity with the outside, and only a small percentage of citizens can even log onto …

Dozens of bodies found 'executed' in Syria

The bodies of at least 80 persons have been found along a river bank in Aleppo with single gunshot wounds to the headThe bodies of at least 80 young men and boys, all executed with a single gunshot to the head or neck, have been found in a river in the Syrian city of Aleppo, a watchdog and rebels said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 65 bodies were found in the Quweiq River, which separates the Bustan al-Qasr district from Ansari in the southwest of the city, but that the toll could rise significantly.
A Free Syrian Army fighter at the scene said the death toll is higher, pointing out that many more bodies were still being dragged from the water, in a rebel-held area.
"Until now we have recovered 68 bodies, some of them just teens," said Captain Abu Sada, adding that all of them had been "executed by the regime."
"But there must be more than 100. There are still many in the water, and we are trying to recover them."
Kidna…

Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable we…

The Rise of Radical and Nonofficial Islamic Groups in Russia’s Volga Region

In the two decades since the dissolution of the USSR, Russian and Western experts, human rights activists, and journalists have become accustomed to the political violence of the North Caucasus. Terrorist bombings and acts of sabotage in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya are perceived as somehow intrinsic to the region. But a recent tragedy in the Volga region suggests that this sort of violence—and the Islamist terrorists who perpetrate it—may not be confined to the Caucasus. On the morning of July 19, 2012, simultaneous terrorist attacks wounded the Tatarstan chief mufti, Ildis Faizov, and killed Valiulla Yakupov, the former deputy chairman of the Tatarstan Spiritual Board of Muslims (TSBM), a well-known Islamic theologian and public figure and one of the most consistent opponents of what Russian politicians and media refer to as Wahhabism. For the first time, official Islamic religious leaders from outside the North Caucasus became victims of Islamist terrorism. Three months late…

French-led troops regain Timbuktu from rebels

Malian and French troops enter the ancient city of Timbuktu, but one northern town remains in rebel hands

French and Malian troops have taken control of the historic Malian city of Timbuktu, after rebel occupiers fled the ancient Sahara trading town and torched several buildings, including a priceless manuscript library.

The French-led coalition troops were welcomed by residents of the town, AFP news agency reported with some residents saying that the rebel fighters had left the city several days ago.

"The Malian army and the French army are in complete control of the town of Timbuktu. Everything is under control," a colonel in the Malian army told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A French military source said there were fears they could have dotted the city with mines, adding that they were in the process of "securing" it.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Timbuktu said that the streets were almost empty when the coalition troops arrived.

"As we got deep…

EUROPE COMPASS

WEEKLY UPDATE JANUARY 28, 2013 Uncertainty and complacencyYesterday The New York Times published an editorial criticising UK Prime Minister David Cameron for the speech he gave last week on the future of the UK-EU relationship. The basic argument is that the United Kingdom will find it hard to renegotiate the terms of EU membership and that Cameron's referendum pledge "presages four or five years of costly uncertainty for potential investors". The first part of this criticism has merit. The United Kingdom's European partners may indeed resist any effort at renegotiation. However, the second part of the criticism is more open to question.There is no doubt that Cameron made a big gamble with this speech. His goal is to silence eurosceptics within his Conservative Party without shedding votes to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Cameron also hopes to keep the Liberal Democrats inside the coalition while at the same time catching Labour leader Ed Miliband wrong-footed. Hi…
January 28, 2013 - In a recent interview with the London Telegraph, Bill Gates has now claimed that his Foundation's massive push for vaccination is not just an exercise in philanthropy but that it is, in fact, "God's work."



Gates, who, according to the Telegraph, is worth an estimated $65 billion, is now dedicating his life to the "eradication of poliomyelitis," or, at least he is dedicating himself to the vaccination program allegedly aimed at achieving these ends.

As reported by the Telegraph, "My wife and I had a long dialogue about how we were going to take the wealth that we're lucky enough to have and give it back in a way that's most impactful to the world," he says. "Both of us worked at Microsoft and saw that if you take innovation and smart people, the ability to measure what's working, that you can pull together some pretty dramatic things. "We're focused on the help of the poorest in the world, which really d…