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Syria's Assad Vague on Delivery of Russian Missile System

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Russia has begun fulfilling some of its weapons contracts, but he did not say whether those deliveries include components of a controversial air defense system.

Assad spoke Thursday in an interview televised on Al-Manar - a station controlled by the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah - a close Assad ally.

Moscow had promised to go ahead with the long-delayed sale of the S-300 air defense system, despite warnings this week from Israel that it would view such a move as a security threat.

Assad said "it is not our policy to talk publicly about military issues," saying the various defense contracts with its longtime ally "have nothing to do" with Syria's ongoing civil war.

On Thursday, as media reports of S-300 deliveries circulated, Israeli newspapers quoted a top Israeli official as saying the Jewish state would respond at a point the S-300 missile system is operational. The Israeli daily Haaretz quoted National Security…

Four-Star General in Eye of US Cyber Storm

Depending on your point of view, U.S. General Keith Alexander is either an Army four-star trying to stave off a cyber Pearl Harbor attack, or an overreaching spy chief who wants to eavesdrop on the private emails of every American.

Alexander, 61, has headed the National Security Agency since 2005, making him the longest-serving chief in the history of an intelligence unit so secretive that it was dubbed “No Such Agency.” Alexander also runs U.S. Cyber Command, which he helped to create in 2010 to oversee the country's offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace.

The dual role means Alexander has more knowledge about cyber threats than any other U.S. official, since the NSA already protects the most sensitive U.S. data, extracts intelligence from foreign networks and uses wiretaps to track suspected terrorists. But it also puts the general at the center of an intense debate over how much power the government should have to spy on private citizens in the name of protecting nat…

Obama to Raise Cybersecurity Concerns with China

The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama will talk cybersecurity next week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid fresh reports of cyber attacks on critical U.S. defense systems.

U.S. officials have not commented on the latest reports, but White House spokesman Jay Carney says he is sure cybersecurity will be discussed when President Obama meets with President Xi in California. Carney called the issue a "key concern" of the administration that U.S. officials raise at every level in meetings with Chinese counterparts.

Monday, The Washington Post newspaper published parts of a confidential defense report accusing Chinese cyberspies of compromising some of most sensitive and advanced U.S. weapons systems.

Classified sections of the report outlined more than two-dozen breaches of missile defense and other weapons systems by Chinese hackers, including many that had not been previously reported.

China has firmly denied involvement in the hacking attempts. It has also returne…

China Announces Digitalized Combat Forces

China's state news agency says the Chinese army will conduct an exercise next month to test new types of combat forces, including units using digital technology.

Xinhua reported Wednesday the drill marks the first time China's military will focus on digitalized combat forces to be used in "informationalized war."

The announcement of the digitalized combat forces comes as U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to talk about cybersecurity next week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid fresh reports of cyber attacks on critical American defense systems.

U.S. officials have not commented on the latest reports, but White House spokesman Jay Carney says he is certain cybersecurity will be discussed when President Obama meets with President Xi in California. Carney calls the issue a "key concern" for the administration that U.S. officials raise at every level in meetings with Chinese counterparts.

Monday, The Washington Post newspaper published parts of a confide…

Police in 17 Countries Smash Huge Money Laundering Scheme

Agents from five continents have smashed a huge money-laundering scheme that allegedly helped 1 million criminals hide their profits.

The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday it indicted the Costa-Rican based Liberty Reserve digital currency company. Five suspects were arrested in New York, Spain and Costa Rica. Two others are still at large.

The indictment accuses Liberty Reserve of laundering $6 billion in profits from crimes, including credit card fraud, identity theft, drug trafficking and child pornography.

Justice officials say Liberty reserve gave criminals a way to hide their money without leaving a trace by letting them set up accounts with fake names and phony addresses.



Police in 17 countries helped U.S. and Costa Rican authorities break up the ring. They include agents in Morocco, China, Russia, Australia and western Europe.

Russian Missile Plan Chills Chances for Syrian No-Fly Zone

Analysts say it will be more difficult for the United States or other Western powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria if Russia goes ahead with the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to its ally Damascus.

Moscow said this week it plans to deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system to the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite objections by the U.S., France and Israel.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday the transfer will be a "stabilizing factor" and will deter what he called "some hotheads" from considering sending foreign forces to intervene in the Syrian conflict.

The surface-to-air missiles would represent a major upgrade over Syria's current air defenses and could challenge Western aircraft, said Ben MacQueen, a Middle East analyst at Australia's Monash University.

"The S-300 has the capacity to knock down cruise missiles as well as high-altitude planes," he said. "So the possession of the…

Justice at the Barrel of a Gun: Vigilante Militias in Mexico

A rapid expansion in 2013 of vigilante militias – civilian armed groups that claim to fight crime – has created a third force in Mexico’s ongoing cartel-related violence. Some of these militias contain well-meaning citizens and have detained hundreds of suspected criminals. However, they challenge the government’s necessary monopoly on the use of force to impart justice. As the militias spread, there is also concern some are being used by criminal groups to fight their rivals and control territory. The Peña Nieto administration needs to develop a coherent policy for dealing with the vigilantes, so that it can work with authentic community policing projects while stopping the continued expansion of unregulated armed groups; this also requires demonstrating that the state has sufficient capacity to restore law and order on its own. If the government fails to deal with this issue, militias could spread across the country, triggering more violence and further damaging the rule of law.

Pres…

Women in uniform: Duma mulls equal opportunity for female recruits in conscription law

State Duma MPs are discussing a proposal to allow Russian women to perform military service. The relevant amendments have been submitted to the Ministry of Defense for evaluation, Izvestia daily reports.

The law on military service would feature a new subpoint that reads: "female citizens aged between 18 and 27…” may join the Russian services on the same grounds as men should they express a desire. For men of the same age group military service of one year is obligatory.

According to the representative of the Ministry of Defense, quoted by the newspaper, “female military contractors are already serving in the armed forces, so there’s nothing wrong in this idea.” The other thing is that the law should be correctly worded so that it doesn’t provoke a negative reaction in the community," they added.

About 50,000 women are already serving in the Russian Armed Forces. However, the main idea of the proposal to endorse the female military conscription is to equalize women's rights…

'Secret deal with Israel': UK newspaper claims Russia cancels alleged S-300 sales to Syria

The media hype around Russia's alleged sale of S-300 missiles to Syria is still mounting, with UK press claiming Moscow shelved its agreement with Damascus because of a "deal" with Tel Aviv. Israeli media has shrugged off the report as "a fairytale."

The Sunday Times claimed that Russia agreed not to supply the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles under a contract with Syria after a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

The newspaper said the two leaders struck a secret deal in which Russia cancels the delivery of the advanced hardware to Syria and Israel refrains from committing further airstrikes in the war-torn country. The report cited an anonymous senior Russian official as its source who quoted "the large Russian community in Israel" as "a major factor in our attitude to Israel”.



The S-300 is a series of Russian long-range surface-to-air missile systems designed to interce…

No extension of EU arms embargo on Syrian rebels

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the European Union has agreed to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition. However there will be no immediate arms supplies.

The news comes after the failure by EU governments to agree on extending the arms embargo, effectively freeing their hands to supply the Syrian opposition with weapons, said the British Foreign Secretary on Monday in Brussels.


The collective sanctions leveled at Syria were set to expire on June 1.

“Tonight EU (European Union) nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end. This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” Hague said.



He added that Britain has no immediate plans to engage in any weapons supplies just yet. Other members appeared to agree on this. However, Hague also said that the move "sends a ve…

Pentagon: The Chinese stole our newest weapons

The designs for more than two dozen major weapons systems used by the United States military have fallen into the hands of the Chinese, US Department of Defense officials say.

Blueprints for the Pentagon’s most advanced weaponry, including the Black Hawk helicopter and the brand new Littoral Combat Ship used by the Navy, have all been compromised, the Defense Science Board claims in a new confidential report.

The Washington Post acknowledged late Monday that they have seen a copy of the report and confirmed that the Chinese now have the know-how to emulate some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated programs.

“This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China,” a senior military official not authorized to speak on the record told Post reporters. “They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development.”

“It’s nuts,” the source said of the report.

The Defense Science Board, a civilian advisory committee within the Pentagon, fell short of accusing the Chinese of stea…

More Nations to Announce Post-2014 Afghanistan Presence

After the recent announcements by Germany and Sweden to retain limited military footprint in Afghanistan after 2014, an International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Spokesman on Wednesday said that there are ten other nations to announce their post-2014 presence soon.

The Isaf Spokesman Brigadier General Gunter Katz said that the Nato member countries and ten of its allies are interested to have military presence in Afghanistan after the ISAF mission comes to an end by the end of next year.

"The 28 nation plus ten partner nations declared that they are willing to contribute. Germany and Sweden gave concrete numbers and we are quite confident that other nations will follow soon," said Gen Katz.

Asked whether more foreign countries would announce their willingness after the Australian defence minister on Tuesday said that his country is willing to keep some troops post-2014, Gen Katz said that "there are ten other nations" to announce their post-2014 presence, but add…

50 Insurgents Including Three Taliban Leaders Killed in Helmand Clashes

Around 50 insurgents including three Taliban leaders were killed during the three-day clash at Sangin district in southern Helmand province, local officials said on Wednesday. 18 other insurgents were injured in the clash.

The Governor of Southern Helmand province Mohammad Naeem at a press conference in the capital of the province Lashkargah, said that the clash started on Monday in Sangin district and is still continuing in certain parts of the district.

"The insurgents form their forces by recruiting people from everywhere, many insurgents are from Sangin and some are even taken in from the adjoining provinces like Kandahar and Helmand. This is not all; good numbers of foreigners are also taken into the insurgent's force. The preliminary assessments showed that there were several insurgents involved in the clash," the Governor told reporters.

Five security forces were killed and nine others injured in the clash, according to the Governor.

The Governor added that foreign se…

Syria: Turning Point in the Battle of Qusayr

By Radwan Mortada

May 22, 2013 "Information Clearing House" -"Al-Akhbar" - After weeks of reinforcing their positions around Qusayr near the Lebanese border, Syrian government forces stormed the strategic town early on Sunday. Many opposition fighters fled, accusing their commanders of betrayal.

Both opposition and army sources on the ground in Qusayr agree that the town – taken by opposition fighters early on in the Syrian crisis – will be in the hands of the regime in a matter of days.

For weeks now, government forces have been conducting military operations around the strategic town, which is located to the southwest of Homs, a few kilometers from the northern tip of Lebanon.

After securing nearly all the villages in the surrounding area, the Syrian army entered Qusayr Sunday morning under heavy fire power, killing 90 opposition fighters and injuring hundreds, according to opposition sources inside the besieged town.

Many fighters managed to break the government sieg…

Egyptian army says Sinai hostages freed

Spokesman says that policemen and border guard abducted in Sinai peninsula last week have been released.

Six Egyptian policemen and a border guard abducted on the Sinai peninsula last week have been released, the Egyptian army has said in a statement.

“The seven kidnapped soldiers are now on their way to Cairo after they were released thanks to the work of military intelligence, and in cooperation with the noble tribal leaders of Sinai," said army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali in a statement posted online on Wednesday.

A report on state television said the hostages were released by their captors in the desert south of Rafah, near the border with Israel.

The men were abducted last week while traveling between the North Sinai towns of El-Arish and Rafah.

The army had deployed hundreds of soldiers to Sinai, along with dozens of armoured vehicles and helicopters, in the wake of the kidnapping. A military operation to free the hostages was widely expected in Egypt, but also risked triggerin…

Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime Read more: Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime

Summary


The battle for the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr, which came under regime artillery fire May 19, is actually part of a larger battle for the highly coveted Homs governorate. As we noted in 2012, the battle has wide-reaching ramifications for the Syrian rebels since Al-Qusayr sits along a major transit point for rebel supplies and reinforcements coming in from Lebanon. But it is equally important to loyalist forces. If the Syrian regime loses control of the Orontes River Valley and its major road junctions, Damascus will be largely cut off from Aleppo and the Alawite-dominated coast, which would limit the regime's access to supply lines from port cities.

The regime's renewed offensive against Al-Qusayr was made possible by support from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. However, geography will determine which side holds the advantage. In northern and eastern Syria, the regime remains on the defensive; in the core, the advantage clearly belongs to the loyalists. With the country squar…

Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Nine years after the first U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2004, the U.S. refuses to officially acknowledge the CIA-run program, while Pakistan denies consenting to it. This secrecy undermines efforts to assess the program’s legality or its full impact on FATA’s population. It also diverts attention from a candid examination of the roots of militancy in the poorly governed tribal belt bordering southern and eastern Afghanistan and how best to address them. Drone strikes may disrupt FATA-based militant groups’ capacity to plan and execute cross-border attacks on NATO troops and to plot attacks against the U.S. homeland, but they cannot solve the fundamental problem. The ability of those groups to regroup, rearm and recruit will remain intact so long as they enjoy safe havens on Pakistani territory and efforts to incorporate FATA into the constitutional mainstream are stifled.

Since 2004, there have been a…

Chinese Hackers Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets

WASHINGTON — Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer industry security experts and American officials.

The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.

But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.

It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that h…

China asks N Korea to release fishing boat

Chinese embassy in Pyongyang asks government to secure release of private Chinese fishing boat seized on May 5.

China has called on North Korea to release a private Chinese fishing boat and its crew, after the boat's owner reported the detention 10 days ago, state media says.

The owner of the boat took to a microblog this weekend to raise attention to the detention that happened on May 5.

Yu Xuejun said unidentified gun-wielding North Koreans took his boat and 16 crew members in what he said were Chinese waters and that the North Koreans wanted a 600,000 yuan ($100,000) ransom.

The diplomatic difficulty comes at a time of high Chinese frustrations with North Korea after it conducted a nuclear test and missile launches.

Yu called the Chinese Embassy for help on May 10 after the boat was "grabbed" by North Korea, the official Xinhua News Agency said late on Sunday, citing an official at the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, Jiang Yaxian.

The embassy promptly contacted the North Kor…

Syrian army attacks rebel stronghold Qusayr

Reports say deadly assault on strategic town is aided by Hezbollah fighters despite denial by Assad of foreign help.

The Syrian army has pounded the rebel-held central town of Qusayr, killing at least 51 people in an apparent preparation for a ground assault, watchdog and activists said.

The attack on Sunday came a day after a rare interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was released, in which he said that his government was not using "fighters from outside of Syria, of other nationalities, and needs no support from any Arab or foreign state".

There are now conflicting reports as to whether or not government forces have entered the town centre, with state TV reporting the army is inside the walls, but the opposition fighters telling Al Jazeera that this is not the case.

Reports coming out of Qusayr, which is in Homs province, said fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement assisted the military.


Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Amman, said that rega…

UN chief in Russia as Syria crisis deepens

Ban Ki-moon warns against losing "momentum" on proposed international peace conference generated by US and Russia.
An international peace conference for Syria, where government and opposition forces will be represented, should happen as soon as possible, the UN chief Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Russia.


On Friday, Ban met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.


Ban's trip and a recent visit to Sochi by British Prime Minister David Cameron follow Putin's early May talks in Moscow with US Secretary of State John Kerry, during which the two sides agreed to set up a new round of Syria negotiations within a matter of weeks.


At a press conference with Lavrov, Ban said: "We should not lose the momentum," generated by the US-Russian proposal to bring the Syrian government and opposition representatives to a peace conference.


Ban said that the conference should be held as soon as possible, but added that no date had yet been …

Scores killed in Iraq mosque bombing

At least 48 dead and scores wounded in twin blasts in Baquba in apparent retaliatory sectarian attack.


Two bombs near a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad have killed 48 people and wounded 89, police and a doctor say, after two days of attacks targeting Iraqi Shia Muslims in which dozens died.

One bomb exploded on Friday as worshippers were departing the Saria mosque in the city of Baquba while a second went off after people gathered at the scene of the first blast, the sources said.

The violence raises the specter of tit-for-tat killings common during the height of sectarian violence in Iraq that killed tens of thousands of people, and comes at a time of festering sectarian tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shia majority.

The bombings are the latest in a series of attacks that have targeted both Sunni and Shia places of worship in past weeks, and follow two days of attacks targeting Iraqi Shia.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber killed 12 people at the entrance of Al-Zahraa Husseiniya…

WikiLeaks: A battle to 'carve up' the Arctic

Resource wars are possible as global warming melts polar ice - opening new areas to oil exploitation, cables indicate.

It is considered the final frontier for oil and gas exploitation, and secret US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks confirm that nations are battling to "carve up" the Arctic's vast resources.

"The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources," Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin was quoted as saying in a 2010 cable. "Russia should not be defeated in this fight."

Along with exposing an estimated 22 per cent of the world's oil, ice melting due to global warming will open new shipping lanes, the arteries of global commerce, which nations are competing to control. And Russia certainly is not the only country eyeing the frozen prize.

Per Stig Moller, then Danish foreign minister, mused in a 2009 cable that "new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the centre of worl…