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Showing posts from May, 2015

Islamic State recruiting in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Kabul - General John Campbell, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan reports that the Islamic State is recruiting fighters in Afghanistan and next door in Pakistan as well.
+ Add Image 1 of 2  Campbell claims that recruiters have funds for recruiting. While he does not believe the Islamic State is fully operational in either country, in Afghanistan some Taliban have split off and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Campbell see this as an attempt for some Taliban to "rebrand" and as a way of bringing attention and resources to themselves. In other areas, this same type of change has led to a significant rise in Islamic State presence. In Libya, some members of Ansar al Sharia, an Al Qaeda-linked group, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Subsequently their strength grew and they now control two coastal cities.
In Afghanistan's Helmand province, Mullah Abdul Rauf has pledged allegiance to the Ilamic State. He is a former senior Taliban commander and…

Iranian aid ship offloads Yemen aid in Djibouti while Iranian plane denied permission to land

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An Iranian news agency said an Iranian Red Crescent plane carrying 20 tonnes of food for Yemen was denied permission to land in Djibouti the location of a UN food distribution hub. + Add Image The IRNA, official Iranian news agency, quoted the Red Crescent official as saying: “Despite coordination with the United Nations and the World Food Programme, the plane was not granted permission to land in Djibouti." The plane is now in south-eastern Iran awaiting authorization of the foreign affairs ministry of Djibouti to land. Djibouti is the site of a key U.S. military base, the only permanent U.S. base in Africa. Drone missions are launched from the base as well as other flights. An Iranian cargo ship, the Nejat, carrying 2,500 tonnes of aid to Yemen that had been heading for the port of Hodeida held by the rebel Houthis, changed course and docked in Djibouti after arriving late Friday night. The cargo was being handed over to the World Food Program (WFP) in Djibouti. The port author…

Saudi Arabia considering purchase of nuclear weapons from Pakistan

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Saudi Arabia is said to be engaged in a strategic review of its security that includes as one possibility acquiring nuclear weapons from Pakistan. + Add Image The Guardian reports that three options are being considered. One option is to acquire a nuclear capability as a deterrent. Another, to maintain or enter into an alliance with a nuclear power to offer it protection. Finally, to negotiate an agreement for a nuclear free Middle East. Washington until now has assumed that the Saudis were content to rely upon the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal for protection. Analysts say the review shows that the Saudis feel insecure in their relationship with the US and want to lessen their reliance on US protection. The Saudis worry not just about Iran but also Israel which appears to be under almost no international pressure to abandon its nuclear program or weapons except for Arab nations. David Albright, of the Institute fo Science and International Security in Washington said:"There has alw…

Glenn Greenwald on western limitations on free speech

In a recent article in the Intercept, journalist Glenn Greenwald, argues that the greatest threat to free speech in the West at present comes not from Islamic fundamentalists but from western politicians who claim to fight them and to protect free speech. + Add Image 1 of 2  Greenwald notes the UK government is among many in the west suppressing free speech in the name of combating terrorism by disrupting the actions of those trying to radicalize people: "They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print." In defence of this move to criminalize expression of ideas that the government authorities consider extremist Prime Minister David Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'” The Home Secretary Theresa May tries to justify the bill in an interview shown in …

Yemen peace talks to be held in Geneva on May 28

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The UN has set May 28 to begin Yemen peace talks in Geneva but only one party to the conflict may attend. The Hadi government based in Saudi Arabia demands that the rebel Houthis give up some of the territory they have taken as a condition of taking part. + Add Image Riad Yassine, the foreign minister, at first insisted the Houthis would need to implement all of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 in order for the Hadi government to agree to talks. Resolution 2216 was passed back on April 15th:Adopting resolution 2216 (2015) by 14 affirmative votes to none against, with one abstention (Russian Federation), the Council also demanded that the Houthis, withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions. In other words, after driving the Hadi government into exile and setting …

Islamic State captures many US-provided weapons and equipment as it retakes Ramadi

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Iraqi troops retreating from Ramadi last Sunday left behind many U.S.-provided vehicles, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery for ISIS fighters. + Add Image Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, estimated that IS captured about a half dozen tanks, about the same number of artillery but almost 100 wheeled vehicles such as Humvees and a number of armored personnel carriers. Warren noted while some vehicles were operational, others were not as they had not been moved for months. The capture of Ramadi is the worst defeat for central government forces since the IS offensive began last June. Apparently several hundred Iraqi soldiers were left in one area of Ramadi surrounded by IS fighters. Reinforcements had been trying to reach Ramadi but were kept away by fierce IS resistance. All contact with the Anbar Operations Center in the area where the soldiers were was cut off and IS later claimed they had overrun the center. The retreat in Ramadi, follows a p…

Greek Prime Minister claims that deal with creditors is close

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Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, insists he is close to a deal with the country's creditors that would result in the remainder of the bailout loan funds to be dispersed helping to ease the country's cash shortage. + Add Image This is not the first time Greek officials have said they are close to a deal. The same claim was made back on May 8. There are still key issues that are not resolved including pension and wage reforms, that is austerity measures. Tsipras claims that there is no possibility of retreat either on the wages issue or pensions. However, Greece has already caved on the issue of privatizations and tax reform another two issues that were previously said to be red lines. If there is to be a deal Tsipras would probably be required to yield on the pensions and wage issues as well. There will be virtually nothing left of the government's anti-austerity measures. Both the IMF and other EU creditors insist that the Greek reform proposals are still too vagu…

Saudis to execute leading Shia cleric for leading protests

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- Said to be the most respected Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheik Al-Nimr's crime was to take part in and lead a protest by the Shia minority back in 2011 during the Arab Spring. Protests are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. + Add Image The ruling royal family are followers of a strict form of Sunni Islam. The Shia minority have long complained that the government discriminates against them. Along with other human rights organizations the Islamic Human Rights Commission(HRC), asked the UN to intervene and prevent him from being executed. All-Nimr is said to be the most respected Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. Many fear his execution could set off violent demonstrations across the middle east and in particular in the areas of eastern Saudi Arabia where the Shia form a majority. The HRC, an NGO based in London, said: "It is a severe blight on the reputation of this office if it is not able to work to protect the rights of individuals to free speech, to protest, to practise their relig…

Turkey and Saudis backing extremist rebels in Syria including Al-Qaeda-linked group

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Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now openly backing Islamic extremists including the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, part of the new coalition called the "Conquest Army."
+ Add Image The leader of another radical group in the coalition Ahrar al-Sham claimed previously that his group was the "real Al-Qaeda." The U.S. is said to be concerned that the new alliance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will end up replacing Assad with a militant Islamic government, precisely the type of result the U.S. wants to avoid. The U.S. focus is on degrading the Islamic State but it has also attacked the Nusra Front in Syria angering rebels of all stripes since the group has been forcefully attacking the Assad regime. While the U.S. is planning to train and arm moderate rebels that it has vetted, the Pentagon wants them to concentrate on attacking the Islamic State. Most rebels together with Turkey and Saudi Arabia and many other Arab states think the first order of business should be defe…

Turkish cargo ship bombed by internationally recognized Libyan government off Tobruk

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The internationally-recognized Libyan government in Tobruk has warned countries not to enter its territorial waters without authorisation.
+ Add Image The warning comes after Libya bombed a Turkish-owned ship last weekend, killing the third captain and wounding several crew members. The ship flew the flag of the Cook Islands but is Turkish-owned and many of the crew were Turks. The government claimed in a statement: "The Turkish boat tried to enter Libyan territorial waters by force... ignoring international norms and maritime regulations." The rival Tripoli government called the Tobruk government's action "violent aggression" and claimed that the ship was in international waters, 13 nautical miles off Tobruk when the attack happened.
The UN Support Mission in Libya(UNSML) also condemned the attack . In a statement it said it regretted the loss of life and also called for a thorough investigation of the incident. The statement went on to urge that all military …

IS in fierce battle with Iraqi forces to control town of Baiji and refinery

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The battle for the town of Baiji and the nearby Baiji refinery, the largest in Iraq, began last year in December as Iraqi forces with US air support launched an offensive to retake the facility. + Add Image While the refinery was taken by Iraqi forces back in November, it was left with inadequate troops to guard it and was retaken by the Islamic State. The battle for control of the town and refinery began last December. The situation has remained fluid with different areas changing hands several times. On April 23, just shortly after the US and Iraqi government announced that the refinery had been secured and cleared of IS fighters, it was revealed that IS militants were actually still inside the facility. The situation is much worse now. After an offensive, the IS controls large areas within the refinery and the Iraqi troops remaining are trapped and surrounded. All supply routes to the troops are now cut off. IS fighters have dug and occupied trenches around storage tanks and the re…

Naval escort to accompany Iran cargo ship to Yemen

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Iranian Admiral Hossein Azad said that the 34th naval group was in the Gulf of Aden in the Bab-al-Mandab strait and had been given the task of protecting the Iranian aid ship.
+ Add Image 1 of 3  Azad claimed that the naval group included a destroyer and a logistic ship which were in the area on a 90 day anti-piracy assignment. Iranian state TV claimed the ship carried food, medicine, tents, and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers, and peace activists. It is expected to arrive at the port of Hodeida next week.
The Pentagon claims that an escort for the ship was not necessary and said that Iran was planning some sort of stunt. If the ship plans to land in Hodeida, held by the Houthis, and the nearest port to the capital Sanaa, they may need an escort. When an Iranian cargo plane tried to land in the capital, the Saudi coalition bombed the runway making it impossible for it to land and preventing any aid coming in to the airport. There is a scheduled five day lull in bombing a…

Arab states meet in Cairo to plan military intervention in Libya

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An unpublicized meeting of Arab military chiefs of staff will take place in Cairo on May 18 and is designed to coordinate plans for an intervention in Libya. France and Italy may also play a part in any intervention. + Add Image The report is from an Arab League source in Defense News but can also be found in McClatchy. The meeting includes not only high-ranking military officials from Egypt but also from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Sudan and the Libyan Tobruk government. Notice that there is no representation from the rival Tripoli government. The Arab League reports that talks between the head of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Arab leaders have already resulted in arms purchases by the Libyan Army including helicopters delivered in late April from the UAE. The UAE and and Egypt were thought to be involved in earlier bombings of Tripoli and Egypt in Benghazi. There is a UN ban against the sale of arms to Libya. In addition t…

Minnesota Symphony Orchestra to play in Cuba this week

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The Minnesota Symphony Orchestra led by its director, Osmo Vanska, will be the first to perform in Cuba since President Barack Obama announced he would be restoring full diplomatic relations last December.
+ Add Image The Minnesota Orchestra has just recovered from a long labor dispute. The last major orchestra to play in Cuba was the Milwaukee Symphony back in 1999. The predecessor to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, performed in Cuba in 1929 and 1930 to sold out concerts and cheering crowds.
In 2012 the musicians in the orchestra refused to accept severe cuts in their salary and were locked out for a total of 16 months, losing an entire season. Their renowned Finnish director, Osmo Vanska, had spent more than a decade making the orchestra into a one of the best in the US. He quit during the dispute. He has directed many orchestras during his career including the Iceland Symphony and has made many recording especially of Finnish composers. The Minnesota orchestra wo…

Tobruk Libyan government rejects EU plan to deal with migrant crisis

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The ambassador to the UN of the internationally-recognized Libyan government, Ibrahim Dabbashi, rejected most of an EU plan to deal with the growing migrants crisis largely centered in Libya. + Add Image Dabbashi complained his government, even though it is Western-backed, was not even consulted on the issue. He ruled out any EU forces on the ground at this stage. He also said the best way to solve the crisis was to arm the "legitimate" Libyan government, that is the government in Tobruk rather than the rival government based in Tripoli. He also warned if there is no progress in the UN-sponsored peace talks in the next few weeks, his own government would take the necessary steps to retake the capital by force. His government already is trying to do that and announced an offensive as the first peace talks began. The commander of the armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, has refused to meet with the militia on the other side, Libya Dawn. Dabbashi said his government had been left out …