Assad intensifies cyberwar against Qatar

Assad intensifies cyberwar against Qatar

By Roula Khalaf in London and Abeer Allam

Financial Times

The Qatari prime minister’s daughter is arrested in London. Qatar’s army chief stages a coup against the emir. Hamad bin Jassim, the prime minister, is sacked. None of these stories is true, but for a while Syria’s embattled regime tried to make them credible partly thanks to a group of loyal hackers.

Late on Monday, the so-called Syrian Electronic Army, the cyber activists who spam Facebook and Twitter with pro-government messages, hacked into the Twitter account of Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya news channel and planted the report of Mr bin Jassim’s removal. As al-Arabiya rushed to report that its social networks were infiltrated, the hackers posted news about an explosion at a Qatari natural gasfield.

The cyberwar against Qatar is part of escalating efforts by Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, to paint the revolt against him as a geopolitical struggle by wealthy Gulf monarchies bent on Syria’s destruction, rather than a brutal attempt to put down a popular uprising .

To a certain extent the regional battle is real: Qatar and Saudi Arabia, long-time rivals in the region, have been remarkably unified over Syria, and have taken the harshest line against Mr Assad. The removal of the Syrian strongman, Iran’s main ally in the Arab world, would alter the balance of power in the Middle East in the Sunni Gulf monarchies’ favour.

Doha and Riyadh have openly backed arming the Syrian opposition, an effort that is likely to accelerate if the current mission of Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy, fails to produce a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Qatari officials have made no secret of their scepticism towards the Annan mission, saying they expected Mr Assad to manipulate rather than comply with its terms.

“This is a fight to the death now, the Qataris won’t relent in trying to get rid of Bashar,” says one political analyst familiar with the thinking in Doha.

For Damascus, Qatar appears to be an easier target than Saudi Arabia, perhaps because it is a smaller Arab nation whose foreign policy has often been considered controversial by its neighbours.

Assad regime loyalists have been peddling the conspiracy theory that the unrest in Syria is not an uprising but a Qatari-instigated aggression designed to dominate the country and ensure Qatari access to the Mediterranean Sea for its gas exports.

“It’s one of the myths fabricated by the regime, claiming that Qatar wanted to build a gas pipeline through Syria but Bashar refused,” says Samir al-Taqi, a Dubai-based Syrian political analyst. “The regime comes up with these theories in order to justify its violence.”

Some analysts say the dispute between Syria and Qatar is increasingly bitter because it has also become personal, pitting two ruling families that were close friends against each other. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, was a big supporter of Mr Assad, lending diplomatic backing and promoting investments in Syria.

While Doha emerged as a champion of Arab uprisings last year, it was more cautious when Syria’s revolution erupted in March 2011. The emir was among the first to counsel Mr Assad to introduce political reforms that would douse the fire of the revolt.

“The Qataris were conspicuously quiet in the first couple of months of the uprising and had felt that Bashar was the right man to take Syria into a different era, but then they concluded that he was a big liar,” says Salman Sheikh, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Centre, a think-tank. “A lot of what’s driving this [Qatari policy] is bitter disappointment.”

The relationship between Qatar and Syria was illustrated by hacked emails recently published by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. They purportedly included an exchange between Sheikha Mayassa al-Thani, the daughter of the Qatari emir, and Asma al-Assad, the first lady, which depict the two women as friends growing increasingly apart.

In one email, Sheikha Mayassa advises Mrs Assad to persuade her husband to give up power and suggests the family would be given refuge in Qatar.

“My father regards President Bashar as a friend, despite the current tensions – he always gave him genuine advice; the opportunity for real change and development was lost a long time ago,” says Sheikha Mayassa in the email. “Nevertheless, [when] one opportunity closes, others open up – and I hope it’s not too late for reflection and coming out of the state of denial.”

Additional reporting by Michael Peel in Damascus and Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut

Justice Department Won’t Reopen Probe of 1970 Kent State shootings, Despite New Evidence

Justice Department won’t reopen probe of 1970 Kent State shootings

(click on image for full-size view)

Plain Dealer historical photo collection

John Darnell took this photo at the moment that Ohio National Guardsmen began firing at Kent State University students during an anti-war protest on May 4, 1970.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Justice Department has declined to reopen its investigation of the 1970 Kent State shootings by Ohio National Guardsmen, citing legal obstacles to further prosecutions and doubts about new evidence reported by The Plain Dealer in 2010.

“There are insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers to bringing a second federal case in this matter,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote in a letter made public Monday announcing the agency’s decision. (Read the full text of the letter in the document viewer below)

An audio tape of the shootings that the newspaper reported may contain provocative sounds, pistol shots and an order for the Guard to fire is inconclusive, Perez said, citing an FBI analysis of the tape.

Alan Canfora, one of the wounded Kent State students and who, as director of the Kent May 4 Center has pushed for a full accounting of the tragedy, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Justice Department’s decision. Canfora and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland had requested the review after The Plain Dealer’s reports were published.

“It’s absurd for anyone to expect the Justice Department to thoroughly investigate itself, including its FBI division,” Canfora said. “I don’t think they’re fair, I don’t think they’re objective, and the only way they can alleviate this controversy about their own failed investigation is to go to some outside, independent experts.”

Stuart Allen, one of the forensic audio experts who two years ago examined the audio tape of the shooting at The Plain Dealer’s request, said he was baffled by the FBI’s conclusion that the recording is unintelligible. He said the FBI determination that what he interpreted as pistol shots were actually slamming doors was “beyond ludicrous.”

The FBI referred questions to the Justice Department, which had not responded to a request for comment as of Monday night.

This excerpt from a copy of Terry Strubbe’s Kent State recording contains the order for the Guard to prepare to fire. The word “Guard!” can be heard at 9.3 seconds. “All right, prepare to fire” begins at 19.5 seconds. “Get down!” is spoken at 22.3 seconds. The final “Guard!” is at 23.7 seconds, and the gunshots begin at 26 seconds.

The government’s refusal quashes one of the few remaining opportunities to resolve the shootings, which gripped the nation 42 years ago.

The killing of four unarmed Kent State University students and wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guardsmen during a protest of the Vietnam War on May 4, 1970 was a pivotal, divisive event in 20th Century American history. What prompted the Guardsmen to fire has remained a mystery for four decades.

Ohio Gov. James Rhodes had sent the Guard to Kent State to quell disturbances on campus. Shortly after noon on May 4, as a raucous anti-war protest appeared to be winding down, a group of Guardsmen marched up Blanket Hill toward a staging area. At the crest of the hill, several dozen of the soldiers wheeled and fired rifles, shotguns and sidearms 67 times during a 13-second barrage.

Though some Guardsmen reported they had heard an order to fire, officers on the scene denied giving such a command. Speculation also focused on some action or sound that may have triggered the soldiers to defensively shoot, but the presidential commission that investigated the Kent State affair determined the Guard faced no danger that warranted lethal force.

Altercation and pistol fire

Warning: Contains offensive language

4.5 seconds: Sounds of crowd yelling, cheering.
37.2 seconds: “Retreat!”
41.5 seconds: Male voice: “They got somebody.” Victory bell begins ringing.
51 seconds: Crowd roars.
59.1 seconds: Male voice: “Kill him!”
59.8 seconds: Male voice: “Kill him!”
1:08.3 seconds: Sounds of struggle.
1:01.7 seconds: First pistol shot.
1:10.2 seconds: Female voice: “Whack that (expletive)!” or “Hit that (expletive)!”
1:15.2 seconds: Second pistol shot.
1:21.7 seconds: Third pistol shot.
1:25.5 seconds: Fourth pistol shot.

Federal prosecutors charged eight low-ranking Guardsmen in connection with the shootings, but a federal judge dismissed the case in 1974. A subsequent civil lawsuit by the victims and families against the Guardsmen and other parties ended in 1979 with a $675,000 settlement and a “statement of regret” for what happened.

One piece of evidence that the government reviewed during its prosecution of the Guardsmen was a reel-to-reel audio tape recorded by a Kent State student, Terry Strubbe. from his dorm room window near Blanket Hill.

The tape captured the sounds of the protest prior to the shootings, the fusillade of gunfire, and its aftermath. A government-commissioned analysis(pdf) of the tape by an acoustics firm in 1974 focused on the pattern of Guard gunshots. The analysis did not note any unusual sounds or additional firing. The FBI’s Cleveland office apparently destroyed the original Strubbe tape in 1979, according to the Justice Department.

Canfora located a cassette copy of the long-forgotten Strubbe tape in a Yale University archive several years ago and urged reporters to examine its contents.

In 2010, as the 40th anniversary of the shootings approached, Canfora provided a copy of the Yale cassette to The Plain Dealer. The newspaper commissioned its analysis of the Strubbe recording, hoping that advances in audio technology might reveal more about its contents.

The initial examination was done by Allen and Tom Owen, two nationally recognized forensic audio experts.

STUART-OWEN-ALLEN-KENT-STATE-TAPE.JPG
Plain Dealer fileStuart Allen, left, and Tom Owen analyze what they’re hearing on an audiotape of the Kent State shootings at Allen’s lab in Plainfield, N.J. Allen and Owen are forensic audio analysts who have examined the audio tape of the shootings.

Using software to filter noise and enhance sounds on the Strubbe recording, Allen and Owen determinedthere was a male voice readying the soldiers to fire seconds before the shooting began. “Guard! . . . All right, prepare to fire!” the analysts reported hearing, followed by another voice yelling “Get down!” The first voice then says, “Guard, fi–,” with the final word drowned out by gunshots.

In October 2010, after Allen conducted dozens of hours of additional analysis, he reported discovering the sounds of a violent altercation, with shouts of “Kill him!” and four .38-caliber revolver shots about 70 seconds before the Guard gunfire begins.

Some Guardsmen claimed they had fired in reaction to gunshots, possibly from a sniper, but said their response was much quicker than the 70-second interval captured on the recording.

Some details of the altercation Allen identified on the recording seem similar to an incident involvingTerry Norman, a Kent State law enforcement student who was carrying a concealed .38-caliber pistol during the May 4 protest. Norman was photographing demonstrators for the Kent State University police and the FBI. He claimed he was assaulted by angry crowd members and said he drew his gun to warn them away. But he denied shooting and said the attack happened after the Guard gunfire, not before.

Several witnesses said they heard a Kent State policeman who inspected Norman’s gun exclaim that it had been fired four times. The officer later denied making the remark. An FBI lab test determined Norman’s pistol had been fired since its last cleaning, but could not pinpoint when. A federal grand jury questioned Norman in 1973, but he was not charged.

Perez based the Justice Department’s decision not to reinvestigate the case primarily on legal constraints. Because of the eight Guardsmen’s 1974 acquittal, the Constitution’s “double jeopardy” clause prohibits the government from re-trying the surviving soldiers, Perez said, even if new evidence arises.

If further investigation revealed that state or federal officials orchestrated the Kent State shootings, or tried to cover up wrongdoing, the Justice Department still couldn’t do anything, Perez said. That’s because the deadline for filing a civil rights case has passed.

Although the government lacked a legal foundation to re-open the case, Perez said the Justice Department still decided to review the Strubbe recording. The agency asked the FBI’s forensic audio, video and image analysis unit in Quantico, Va., to determine if there was evidence of a firing order or four pistol shots, as The Plain Dealer review had shown.

Alan Canfora by Mark Duncan AP 2007.JPG
Mark Duncan, AP fileAlan Canfora shows a copy of the Strubbe tape during a 2007 news conference.

The FBI obtained and analyzed a digital copy of the Yale version, as The Plain Dealer had done.

The FBI’s analysts didn’t contact Allen or the newspaper to request a copy of his enhanced tape, or to ask about his methods. Owen is out of the country and unavailable to address whether the FBI contacted him.

A team of eight audio examiners and technicians used software to try to enhance voices and sounds in critical sections of the tape.

Overall, the FBI examiners found the tape segment containing the purported firing command to be unintelligible, according to Perez’s letter. Their impression, although admittedly uncertain, was that there were no commands, and that the shouts the newspaper’s analysts interpreted as an order to prepare to shoot probably came from several people located closer to the tape recorder’s microphone than where the soldiers stood.

As for the four suspected pistol shots prior to the Guard gunfire, the FBI examiners suspect – but again say they are not certain – they are door slams, as people entered and left Strubbe’s dorm room. The FBI examiners said they heard seven similar thuds over a period of two and a half minutes after the Guard gunfire ended.

Perez’s letter notes that a search of the Kent State grounds after the shootings “revealed no ammunition casings that were not attributed to the weapons used by the Guardsmen.”

zz5.JPG
Alan Canfora, Special to The Plain DealerThis photo shows two spent .38-caliber casings recovered from the Kent State shooting site and now in Yale University’s archive.

However, a photo in the Yale archives indicates the government was in possession of at least two .38-caliber casings recovered from the shooting site. The government determined that the soldiers fired only rifles, .45-caliber pistols, shotguns and grenade launchers.

Allen said he has worked with the FBI before and would have shared his methodology and findings with them, had they asked. “We did everything by the FBI’s own guidelines,” he said. “If they were serious in their investigation, they should have contacted us.”

Allen said he compared the four banging sounds on the tape to a database of gunshots recorded from various weapons to determine they were from a .38. The sonic signature of a gunshot is distinctly different than that of a slamming door, he said – “not even close.”

On the tape, “we did hear doors opening and closing, but not at time of the pistol shots,” Allen said. The analyst said he stands by his findings and would testify they are accurate to a “very high degree of scientific certainty.”

Canfora said six of the seven surviving shooting victims, along with attorneys, will meet in Kent at next month’s May 4 commemoration to discuss and reveal what actions they will take next. Canfora has repeatedly said the survivors don’t seek prosecution or punishment of the remaining Guardsmen, but want an apology and an admission of responsibility.

“We’re considering all of our options,” he said, including the possibility of civil lawsuits. “We never expected our efforts with the U.S. Justice Department to be our only avenue in the search for justice. I’m convinced that with further independent analysis of the digital forensic evidence, we’ll conclusively soon prove that the Kent State massacre was an intentional slaughter of innocent, unarmed students. I think at some point even the government will have to admit that truth.”

Death Squads and Counter-Death Squads In Syria

[It is no coincidence that one day after Obama signed an Executive Order targeting both the sellers and the users of technological means to target the US-supported activists who are using social media to organize revolution in Syria (SEE:  Obama Targeting Individuals Who Supply Anti-Facebook Busting Technology to Iran and Syria) Syrian intelligence officials are themselves being targeted.  Reports such as the one below confirm for the rest of the world that American covert counter-assassins (CIA- funded death squads) are busy at their bloody work.]

Syrian Rebels Target Security Officials in Capital

 By BEN HUBBARD Associated Press
BEIRUT  (AP)

Rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad killed three regime officers in separate attacks Tuesday around Damascus, activists and state media said, the latest violence targeting the security forces used by the government to quash dissent.

A bomb hidden in an army truck also exploded in the capital, wounding several people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an intelligence officer was shot dead in the northeastern Barzeh neighborhood of the capital Damascus. Also Tuesday, the state news service said “terrorists” shot to death a retired lieutenant colonel and his brother, a chief warrant officer, in an area southwest of the capital.

Inside the city, explosives planted in an army truck blew up as the vehicle traveled through downtown, leaving a hole in its roof and blood and shattered glass on the road. The truck’s driver and two passengers in a nearby car were injured and taken to a hospital.

The state news service said an “armed terrorist group” planted explosives under the driver’s side.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The 11-person U.N. team is in Syria to observe the cease-fire and prepare for a total of 300 monitors to arrive later.

Tuesday’s attacks underlined the increasing militarization of the conflict, which began in March 2011 as peaceful protests calling for political reforms with inspiration from successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The government cracked down with massive force, deploying troops, snipers and pro-government thugs against the opposition, while regime opponents armed themselves for protection and joined forces with army defectors.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an intelligence officer was shot dead in the northeastern Barzeh neighborhood of the capital Damascus. Also Tuesday, the state news service said “terrorists” shot to death a retired lieutenant colonel and his brother, a chief warrant officer, in an area southwest of the capital.

Inside the city, explosives planted in an army truck blew up as the vehicle traveled through downtown, leaving a hole in its roof and blood and shattered glass on the road. The truck’s driver and two passengers in a nearby car were injured and taken to a hospital.

The state news service said an “armed terrorist group” planted explosives under the driver’s side.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The 11-person U.N. team is in Syria to observe the cease-fire and prepare for a total of 300 monitors to arrive later.

Tuesday’s attacks underlined the increasing militarization of the conflict, which began in March 2011 as peaceful protests calling for political reforms with inspiration from successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The government cracked down with massive force, deploying troops, snipers and pro-government thugs against the opposition, while regime opponents armed themselves for protection and joined forces with army defectors.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

Russian/US Airborne Commandos To Hold New World Order Anti-Terror Drills At Ft. Carson, Colorado Springs

[We are finally seeing all those warnings about UN, or Russian forces operating on US soil coming true (SEE:  Moscow Pushes for CSTO-NATO Unity of Mission, Separate Spheres of Influence).  The need to hide their real intentions is evidently passing, judging from such blatant joint military efforts such as these.  They are preparing to defend the NWO from American patriots.  We are so screwed.]

Russia, U.S. to Hold Anti-terror Drills in May

Xinhua

CRIENGLISH.com

Web Editor: Jiang
Airborne troops from Russia and the Untied States would hold joint anti-terror drills in the U.S. state of Colorado between May 24 and 31, spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry Col. Alexander Kucherenko said on Thursday.

According to the spokesman, it will be the first time that the Russian airborne forces have held exercises with the U.S. airborne forces on the U.S. territory.

“According to the exercise scenario, soldiers of the two countries will hold a tactical airborne operation, including the reconnaissance of imaginary terrorists’ camp and a raid,” Kucherenko said.

“After the operation, a helicopter will evacuate the soldiers,” Kucherenko said, adding that the Russian soldiers will also exercise with the U.S. special service weapons in the drills in Fort Carson, Colorado.

Besides, the spokesman said, the Russian group will arrive a week ahead of the drills and attend a baseball game in the city of Colorado Springs.

 

NGO crackdown: Gagging democracy or national self-defense?

Protesters burn a mock U.S. flag, condemning the decision of the Ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to release American activists who were involved in what is known as the NGO foreign fund case, in front of the U.S embassy in Cairo March 9, 2012.

Protesters burn a mock U.S. flag, condemning the decision of the Ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to release American activists who were involved in what is known as the NGO foreign fund case, in front of the U.S embassy in Cairo March 9, 2012 (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

NGO crackdown: Gagging democracy or national self-defense?

RT

Egypt has denied licenses to eight US-based non-profit groups, saying they violated the country’s sovereignty. Many states are concerned that foreign government-backed NGOs are really agents for their sponsors, rather than independent action groups.

Among the organizations banned from continuing their work in Egypt are the Carter Center for Human Rights, set up by former US President Jimmy Carter, Christian group The Coptic Orphans, Seeds of Peace and other groups.

Egyptian authorities warned that if the NGOs try to work without a license, Cairo would “take relevant measures”.

Local media speculate that the rejection may be temporary, and licenses could be granted later, after the presidential election due on May 23 and 24.

Monday’s move revives a crackdown by the Egyptian authorities on foreign-funded NGOs, which recently provoked a serious diplomatic row with long-term ally US. In late December 2011, security forces raided offices of a number of groups suspected of receiving money in violation of Egyptian legislation.

In February, prosecutors charged 43 people with instilling dissent and meddling in domestic policies following last year’s mass protests, which resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak. Among them were citizens of the US, Germany, Serbia, Norway and Jordan.

In March, an Egyptian court revoked the travel ban for 17 indicted Americans following Washington’s threat to withdraw $1.3 billion annual military aid to Cairo. The decision provoked a wave criticism of the ruling military council in Egypt. Many activists accused them of betraying national interests under American pressure.

But shortly after the suspected Americans left the country, Cairo’s prosecutors decided to target more people allegedly involved in the case, who were not in Egypt when the charges against their colleagues were made. Egypt asked Interpol to issue “red notices” for 15 NGO workers, including 12 Americans, two Lebanese and a Jordanian.

On Monday, Interpol’s French headquarters announced that the Egyptian request had been turned down, because it contradicted rules that strictly forbid the organization “to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”

Not so non-government

There may be a good reason why national governments in troubled countries mistrust US-funded NGOs. For instance, NATO’s intervention in Libya was partially justified by exaggerated reports of human rights organizations alleging that Muammar Gaddafi’s forces committed crimes against humanity and breached international law in other ways, reports RT’s Maria Portnaya. After the war some of them admitted to giving ungrounded reports.

Powerful NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International are supposed to be objective monitors and not take sides, but in reality they “enter into an excessively cozy relationship with for example the United States government, but also other powerful Western allies, over Libya and over other issues,” John Laughland from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation told RT.

This is what happened in Libya and is now happening in Syria, he added.

“The equivalent, if you like, of the Libyan League of Human Rights, which is called the Damascus Centre for Human Rights, has played exactly the same role. They’ve alleged crimes against humanity. They’ve called for safe havens, and armed intervention in that country. And they are quite clear political lobbyists, who are trying to secure a military intervention against Syria along the lines of the one approved last year against Libya,”
 Laughland explained.

Another example is the group behind the Kony 2012 initiative. The California-based NGO Invisible Children is calling to stop the use of child soldiers and is promoting peace in the Ugandan civil war. But the same organization provided Uganda’s authorities with intelligence that led to the arrest of several regime opponents, as a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks revealed.

“I’m willing to believe that was not the one time that Invisible Children provided information to the Ugandan authorities. What else do we not know, in terms of their relations with the Ugandan Government?” asks Milton Allimadi, Editor-in-chief of the Black Star News.

The viral video calling on a campaign to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army appeared just months after President Obama decided to send 100 US military advisors to the region to help local governments remove Kony “from the battlefield”. Some human rights organizations criticized the move, saying among those receiving American aid is South Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, which is known to exploit child soldiers just like Kony does.

NGOs are not currently held accountable for the information they publish, no matter how much collateral damage false facts may cause. Critics say some of those organizations actually pave the way for conflict rather than advocating peaceful solutions.

Afghan Stability Undermined by Pakistan, General Says

Afghan Stability Undermined by Pakistan Army, U.S. General Says

AFP via Getty Images

An Afghan policeman stands guard as a pile of narcotics is destroyed by officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.

By Viola Gienger
BLOOMBERG

Hard-won stability in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province is undermined by the Pakistan Army’s failure to help stem the flow of arms coming into the area and drugs going out, a U.S. general said.

“Everything is good, but it’s not irreversible,” Marine Corps Major General John Toolan said in an interview in Washington yesterday after appearing before the Atlantic Council, a policy research group. He ended a one-year tour last month as the commander in charge of the NATO coalition’s southwestern regional command responsible for Helmand.

An Afghan policeman stands guard as a pile of narcotics is destroyed by officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province. Source: AFP via Getty Images

Toolan’s prognosis highlights the risks as the U.S.-led coalition turns its attention to eastern Afghanistan and prepares to withdraw more forces this year. President Barack Obamaplans to cut U.S. troops by 23,000 more this year in preparation for handing control to Afghan authorities by the end of 2014.

With reductions planned by other countries in the 50-nation coalition, about 108,000 personnel will be left until a next round of cuts. The number of U.S. Marines in Helmand is due to drop to 7,000 by October from about 20,000 now, Toolan said in the interview.

“We need to maintain the pressure,” Toolan told the Atlantic Council audience. “The insurgency in the south is the greatest threat to the government of Afghanistan.”

Haqqani Network

The guerrillas known as the Haqqani network, who mainly operate in the country’s east from havens across the Pakistani border, have received attention beyond their potential longer- term impact on Afghanistan, Toolan said. The Haqqanis mainly operate to maintain themselves rather than to achieve any grander designs, he said.

“As the insurgency goes, the Haqqani network goes,” Toolan said. “If you can keep a lid on the insurgency, the Haqqani network is not going to be as all-powerful as some people talk it up to be.”

In Helmand, the need to place forces at the border detracts from efforts elsewhere in the province to compensate for a weak central Afghan government and drug-fueled corruption, Toolan said.

“I know for a fact that drugs are moving out through Pakistan and lethal aid is coming in on a regular basis,” Toolan told the Atlantic Council. “I have had no support from 12th Corps,” the Pakistan Army unit in charge of the area across the border, he said.

He said he tried to organize meetings with the corps to discuss the issue. “There always seemed to be something that interfered,” he said.

Pakistan’s Response

A spokesman for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, Nadeem Hotiana, said coordination on common threats has occurred in regular three-way talks among border officials from his country, Afghanistan and the coalition led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“There are certain trilateral meetings where such issues can be discussed,” Hotiana said yesterday in an interview, declining to comment further.

Pakistan sees it in its own interest to cooperate on narcotics trafficking and the cross-border arms trade because they threaten everyone involved, said another Pakistani official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to comment publicly. Pakistan’s military makes sincere efforts within its limitations, the official said.

The U.S. and Pakistan have struggled to rebuild relations, dashed every few months by a confrontation. In January 2011, a CIA employee shot dead two Pakistani men in Lahore. U.S. special operations forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May during a raid conducted without notice to Pakistan in its army garrison town of Abbottabad. In November, helicopters of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan inadvertently killed 26 Pakistani troops at the border.

Poppy Cultivation

In Helmand Province, corrupt Afghan officials and security forces and the continuing financial temptations of poppy cultivation also endanger efforts by the coalition and legitimate local authorities to win over the population from the Taliban, Toolan said.

“If the central government of Afghanistan doesn’t stay strong, then there are individuals in the central government who can significantly hurt the progress that’s been made,” the general said.

The answer may be to more aggressively apply provisions of Afghanistan’s constitution that delegate authority to local officials, he said.

The Afghan army and police will continue to need robust backing from international forces through 2014, Toolan said. That includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology to supplement their human intelligence sources, as well as training in military medicine and even firing accuracy, he said.

The U.S. is deploying surveillance balloons with full- motion video to buttress the Afghan forces as the coalition draws back to an advising role, Toolan said. The police also need more training by experts in the field rather than the “dabbling” that coalition military forces are able to provide, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at vgienger@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

India Defying US Sanctions On Iran

Exclusive: Indian shipping firms to carry Iran crude despite reduced insurance

A general view of an oil dock is seen from a ship at the port of Kalantari in the city of Chabahar, 300km (186 miles) east of the Strait of Hormuz January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

By Nidhi Verma and Randy Fabi

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE | Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:56am EDT

(Reuters) – Indian shipping firms will continue to transport Iranian crude even if limited insurance coverage due to tightening Western sanctions leaves them financially exposed to a spill or accident, a top executive and industry sources said.

Tough new European Union sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s oil exports to Europe also ban EU insurers and reinsurers from covering tankers carrying Iranian crude anywhere in the world from July. Around 90 percent of the world’s tanker insurance is based in the West, so the measures threaten shipments to Iran’s top Asian buyers China, India, Japan and South Korea.

The sanctions seek to stem the flow of petrodollars to Tehran to force the OPEC member to halt a nuclear program the West suspects is intended to produce weapons.

Shipping Corp of India, which is the country’s largest shipping firm, Great Eastern and other Indian tanker firms have asked state insurers to step in and provide up to $50 million in third-party liability coverage per tanker voyage.

The amount is a fraction of the typical $1 billion coverage that a supertanker carrying around 2 million barrels of crude would have from reinsurers against personal injury and pollution claims.

India’s shipping companies would run the risk of shipping the crude even though they would be liable for any claims above $50 million in the case of an incident, industry sources said.

“To the best of our knowledge, over the last 10 years, none of the Indian shipping companies carrying Iranian crude oil into India has had any major incident relating to pollution or anything,” Shipping Corp Chairman S. Hajara told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore.

“Since there have been no claims in 10 years, we felt if we have cover of $50 million as a commercial organization it would be worthwhile for us to continue in that business.”

India is the world’s fourth-largest oil importer and one of the biggest customers for Iran’s 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil exports. On average, there are 10 crude shipments a month from Iranto refineries on the west coast of India.

A major oil spill from one of these tankers could leave Indian shipowners liable for billions of dollars in damages.

The most expensive oil spill was the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, which industry groups estimate has cost as much as $7 billion so far in clean-up, fines, penalties and claims.

“Exxon Valdez happens once in decades. If you think all your risk must be covered, then you should not be in business,” Hajara said, adding that liability limits for an oil spill have extended beyond $1 billion and $3 billion for other incidents.

“We have been very clear that Indian insurance companies will have a tough task, if not impossible, to get reinsurance if the sanctions really set in. We know if we ask for a huge amount of cover we will never get it.”

The biggest reinsurers are located in Europe and according to some industry experts the only way to cope with the loss of European reinsurers would be for governments of importing countries to provide federal guarantees to cover any expenses relating to personal and pollution claims.

Shipowners have asked the government for sovereign guarantees, but have not received a response, Hajara said. Indian firms, along with Japan and South Korea, have also lobbied European officials for exemptions to the EU sanctions.

India’s refiners are already cutting imports to comply with a separate set of U.S. sanctions requiring Iran’s crude clients to significantly cut purchases. Refiners could cut imports by about a quarter in the 2012-2013 year that began on April 1, but are keen to keep the remaining imports coming.

In the fiscal year that ended on March 31, India’s imports from Iran were less than 340,000 bpd, compared with the 362,000 bpd committed under annual term contracts. India is currently importing about 280,000 bpd.

A finance ministry source said the Indian government would consider any action necessary to keep oil flowing from Iran, India’s second-biggest supplier after Saudi Arabia, including offering sovereign guarantees to shipments.

The shipping firms have sent their request to state insurers United India Insurance, General Insurance Company, New India Assurance Co. Ltd., National Insurance Co. Ltd. and the Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., said a shipping source. The shipping and finance ministries were also looking at the proposal.

A final decision is expected “very soon,” Hajara said.

Japanese insurers have also warned ship owners they will only cover one tanker at a time carrying Iranian crude through the Middle East because their ability to provide cover is limited without the European reinsurance market.

That will reduce the number of tankers carrying Iranian oil to three or four a month as each ship takes about a week to 10 days to travel in and out of the Gulf, sources said, compared with about 10 ships a month last year.

Japan has cut its April crude loadings from Iran by nearly 80 percent compared to the first two months of the year.

(Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin in HONG KONG and Manoj Kumar in NEW DELHI; Editing by Jo Winterbottom, Simon Webb and Clarence Fernandez)

They took away God of butterflies and flowers–The Hijacking of Islam

They took away God of butterflies and flowers

-Photo Courtesy Ayesha Vellani/White Star

This is a story that we often tell each other at the Alif Laila Tavern in Virginia because it concerns all of us. It is about a great loss that few understand and fewer mourn.

Terrorism has hurt Muslims more than it has hurt any other community. It has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Muslims across the word. But what’s worse is that it hijacked our faith and changed it into something even we cannot recognise now. It also took our God away from us.

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We were in our backyard — God and me — when they came. They took him away and changed him. He was a friendly God before. We roamed around together, holding hands. We collected colored feathers, glorious flowers and chased delicate butterflies.

And we could talk, spend hours in friendly chats. When they came we were having an important friend-talk. He was explaining why butterflies stain our hands and fireflies do not burn.

They were all big men. Some bearded, some not. Some had guns, some did not. Some carried swords and spears. Others hefted heavy sticks.

They came and shouted: “We cannot let God waste his time. We are here to save him from children and butterflies. He is too important for childish thoughts. He has more important things to do. Give him to us.”

They lifted God on their shoulders and marched from my garden, chanting slogans.

And they took him away. From me and my house. From my village and my city. From that day on, nobody has seen my God. Nobody knows where he is, where they took him.

He does not talk to children anymore. He does not talk to us at all. They bring all his orders to us and say: This is what God says. Do it. Those who do not are kicked, beaten, flogged and killed. All in the name of my God!

He has changed so much since they took him that I do not recognise him anymore. He is not the God I loved. He is their God. He no longer speaks the language of butterflies and fireflies. His orders are not that of a loving friend. He talks like earthbound rulers.

I still miss Him a lot. I want the God of butterflies and flowers.

I want to say to him, “O God how much I want you to come down from your heavenly abode and play with me. I want to be a little child again. I want to hold your hand and run with you. Deep into the jungle. And when the jungle scares me, I want to hide in your arms. I want you to stay there, wait for me. Don’t abandon me like others. You are more kind than a mother. And more caring than a father.

I want you to leave all your work aside for one day, just one day. Yes, I know it is important. I know it is you who brings clouds from the sea and makes them rain on the thirsty earth. So that we could smell the mist and the raindrops stir in the dry soil.

It is you who brings the monsoon, holding the reins of the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets in your hands. And change the seasons for your children.

It is you who prevents people from killing each other. You yearn for us to live under the loving care of our friends. It is you who feeds insects hiding under the stone. And give warmth to the poor sitting around the fire.

You also fetch a glass of water for the beggar woman. You fill our dreams with color and light and bring sleep to our burning eyes. You protect the travelers. And save us from our own madness.

Yes you have so many important things to do. But you have always done this and more. Only you know how old this universe is. And how unending your daily chores.

But you also know that my stay here is short. My age is not numbered in solar years. I want to hold your hand and walk in the cruel crowd, holding my head high. So that everybody could see you have dodged your bearded guards. And returned to children and butterflies.

I want to watch them and smile at them. And you, my provider, I don’t want much from you. Just buy me a plate of chickpeas, some oranges and some mangoes (they do not grow in the same season but you get them both for me!).

I also want you to fetch a glass of cold sherbet with crushed ice.

And let me put my head on your shoulders (don’t be upset with me, this is how your children behave). And sleep, a long, long sleep.

And when I do, you quietly close my eyes and take me to the journey that awaits us all. If you are with me, why should I be afraid of any journey?”

The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.