Iran, Israel take part in Middle East nuclear meeting

Iran, Israel take part in Middle East nuclear meeting: diplomats

daily star

Saeed Jalili, a member of Expediency Council and former nuclear negotiator delivers a speech during an annual anti-American demonstration in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

GENEVA: Iran, Israel and Arab states took part in a secret meeting about prospects for an international conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, diplomats said on Tuesday, a rare such gathering of regional adversaries.

They gave no details about the Oct. 21-22 meeting in a hotel in the Swiss village of Glion near Montreux. An Israeli official said various envoys set out their national positions but Israel had no direct communication with Iranian and Arab delegates.

But an Arab diplomat told Reuters: “That they were there, the Israelis and Iran, is the main thing.” A new meeting would be held before the end of the year, the diplomat said.

It was not clear who chaired the session but a senior Finnish diplomat, Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava, is charged with organising the Middle East conference. There was no immediate comment from his office on Tuesday, or from Iran.

The discussions were also attended by representatives of the United States and some Arab states, the Arab diplomat added, without naming them.

Israel is widely believed to possess the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent condemnation by Arab countries and Iran, which say it threatens peace and security.

U.S. and Israeli officials see Iran’s atomic activity as the main proliferation threat and say a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East is not feasible without a broad Arab-Israeli peace and verifiable limits on the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy, not for potential nuclear weapons fuel as the West suspects.

An Egyptian-proposed plan for an international conference to lay the groundwork for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed in 2010, co-sponsored by Russia, the United States and Britain.

But Washington said it would be delayed just before it was due to be held late last year, and no new date has been announced. Britain, another sponsor, has said it hopes it can still take place in 2013.

The June election of Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who has pledged to try to resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities, as new Iranian president has raised hopes of a peaceful settlement with world powers.

Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia are to hold a new round of negotiations in Geneva on Thursday and Friday.

Israel has warned against what it calls an Iranian “charm offensive” and accuses Tehran of diplomatic stalling while it builds up the capability to produce nuclear weaponry.

The Israeli official, speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, described the Oct. 21-22 meeting as a “preparatory session, of sorts”, ahead of the planned Middle East conference.

“There were no contacts between our representative and Arab or Iranian representatives, not direct nor indirect. The meeting was mainly technical,” the Israeli official said.

“The conference itself has not yet been scheduled. As far as we are concerned, it is important to uphold the principle that any resolution be accepted with full consensus.”

ailystar.com.lb)

Islamist Thuggery In Syria and the Criminal Nature of “Al-Qaeda”

Al-Qaeda’s mafia-like actions in Syria underline its fragmentation: analysts

 

syria-jabhat-nusra-650_416

Members of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra parade in a neighbourhood in Aleppo in October 2013. Analysts say the group’s actions resemble the work of criminal organisations and gangs. [Karam al-Masri/AFP]

Analysts are likening the actions of al-Qaeda affiliates the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) in Syria to the mafia, both in terms of the organised crime these groups deploy to finance their operations, and their competition for control over areas the Syrian opposition has taken from regime control.

“The modus operandi of terrorist organisations in Syria resembles the work of criminal organisations and gangs and mafias,” said Maj. Gen. Yahya Mohammed Ali, who is retired from the Egyptian army and a specialist on terror groups. “The mafia is based on the mother family’s control of all business, legal and illegal, and it does this by extending its influence in various ways and methods and forcing everyone to work under its supervision.”

The mafia-like actions of these groups in Syria include their attempts to eliminate other armed groups in the country, as when the ISIL and JAN attacked factions of the mainstream opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the border areas with Iraq and Turkey and elsewhere, until the rift that occurred between ISIL and JAN drove them to fight each other for influence, he said.

“Most of the resources of groups linked to al-Qaeda come from kidnappings for ransom, which have become known and commonplace in recent months, and from cross-border smuggling and the imposition of fees at border crossings under their control,” he said.

The money gained by these organisations through illegal means is used to pay off their fighters, to procure materials and supplies, and to establish ‘legitimate’ business ventures to launder money and secure steady funding sources, Ali said.

There are reports that drug smuggling from the Middle East to Western Europe through the Balkans contributes to financing organisations like al-Qaeda in the Middle East, Natasha Srdoc, chair of the Croatia-based economic think tank Adriatic Institute, told regional news website Southeast European Times (SETimes).

According to research presented by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Interpol and think tanks like Adriatic, the trade through this “Balkan Route” is a 15-billion-euro ($20.2 billion) annual market in drug smuggling, the news website said.

“About 90% of the heroin in Europe comes via the Balkans. It is a huge amount of money and the Islamists in the Middle East, from where the whole story starts, are taking most of that money for themselves,” Marko Nicovic, a member of the board of directors of the International Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association, told SETimes.

Criminality and control

Since JAN first appeared in Syria in late 2011, its members sought to control the resources of the areas they govern, under the pretext of caring for citizens and ensuring resources were distributed in an equitable manner, said Abdul Hameed Hneineh, a Syrian merchant from al-Raqa who took refuge with his family in Cairo.

“These groups controlled the distribution of wheat and food supplies to citizens, and they also sought to control the areas with oil wells, factories and bakeries,” he told Al-Shorfa.

As time passed, corruption became increasingly apparent, Hneineh said, with machines from factories and barrels of oil disappearing to be sold across the border.

In addition to al-Raqa, al-Qaeda affiliates ISIL and JAN now control areas in the north and east of Syria including in Deir Ezzor, on the Iraqi border, in Aleppo and in the Idlib countryside, and is attempting to expand in al-Hasakeh, said al-Qaeda affairs specialist Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Ahmed, who is retired from the Egyptian military.

There also is an al-Qaeda presence in opposition-controlled areas in Homs and the Deraa countryside, he said.

“All of these areas are currently the centre of the conflict between the ISIL and JAN for control,” he said.

Many ISIL fighters are foreign fighters with a small percentage of Syrians, while JAN is made up of foreign fighters and regime opponents, Ahmed said.

Mainstream Syrian opposition figures have condemned the influx of foreign fighters into Syria for “jihad”, saying it reflects negatively on the Syrian revolution.

The presence of foreign fighters runs contrary to the traditions of Syrian society, especially as they come from different environments, field media activist Abu Jaafar al-Mogharbel, known as Abu Jaafar Homs, told Al-Shorfa in May.

“They do not know our customs,” he said, adding that the Syrian people could never accept to live under any oppressor.

Fragmentation of al-Qaeda

“What is happening in Syria clearly reveals two things: the first is how far removed al-Qaeda elements are from the Islamic slogans they pretend to promote, in particular the unity of Muslims and the predominance of the citizens’ interest over any other, putting instead their personal interests above all and displaying their internal conflicts,” Maj. Gen. Ahmed said.

In June, the killing of a Syrian boy by the ISIL in front of his parents and siblings in Aleppo drew condemnation and protests among residents of the city, as did the ISIL’s September killings of a Syrian doctor working for medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières and Syrian poet Mohammed al-Hamada in the north of the country.

“The second is the fragmentation of al-Qaeda”, which became clear following a June letter from the al-Qaeda leadership to its affiliates in Syria, Ahmed said.

In June, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri denounced the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for forming the ISIL without seeking instruction or guidance or even alerting the senior al-Qaeda leadership.

JAN leader Mohammed al-Joulani was also wrong to deny a merger with al-Qaeda in Iraq “without having our permission or advice, even without notifying us”, al-Zawahiri said in the letter.

This letter was “a tacit admission of a loss of control over al-Qaeda affiliates in the region”, Ahmed said.

The refusal of these affiliates to comply with al-Zawahiri’s orders shows that, even with al-Qaeda’s spread in Syria, the central leadership is in a weak position, he added.

Al-Zawahiri recently faced a similar problem after a conflict surfaced within the branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, when the leader of that affiliate, Abu Musaab Abdel Wadood, dismissed a prominent al-Qaeda leader in Africa’s Sahel region, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Belmokhtar reacted by establishing a separate group called “Signatories in Blood” and declared loyalty directly to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership under al-Zawahiri in Waziristan.

This power struggle has weakened al-Qaeda in Syria, in addition to other temptations for the resources available in opposition-controlled areas of the country, Ahmed said.

Chinese Terrorists Graduate from Knives To Bombs

N China explosions caused by self-made bombs

Xinhua net

Photo taken on Nov. 6, 2013 shows the accident site after explosions on the Yingze Street in Taiyuan, capital of north China’ Shanxi Province, Nov. 6, 2013. One person was killed and eight others were injured after explosions occurred on Wednesday morning in front of the office building of the Shanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China. (Xinhua/Liu Guoliang)

TAIYUAN, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) — Explosions that left one person dead and eight injured on Wednesday morning in north China’s Shanxi Province were caused by self-made bombs, local police said.

The blasts struck at around 7:40 a.m. in front of the office building of the Shanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, on Yingze Street in the provincial capital of Taiyuan, according to the city’s public security bureau.

Eight explosive sounds were heard. An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team was dispatched to the scene while no other explosive was discovered.

The presence of steel beads and circuit boards found scattered at the scene by an initial investigation indicate the incident was caused by self-made bombs, according to police.

Traffic at the site has been resumed, and further investigation into the case is under way.

Obama’s Primary Hit Man for the Mideast Slams Saudis, Then Denies It

[Ambassador Feltman is known as a diplomat who usually speaks his mind freely, but only in private.  The fact that his private words have become public (even though they were allegedly spoken in confidence to someone on the UN sidelines), spilling the Imperial beans on Saudi intentions to absorb Lebanon, reveals Washington’s true position, that the Saudis are in great danger of bringing-about their own destabilization, just like their protectors in Washington.

The Google translation of the original Arabic report follows below, letting you decide for yourselves when Ambassador Feltman was lying, then, or now, or both.]

Feltman denies reports he criticized Saudi Arabia

daily star

U.N. official Jeffrey Feltman. (Archive Photo/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: U.N. official Jeffrey Feltman denied Monday reports published by a local media that he criticized Saudi Arabia’s government, saying they were fabricated.

“Feltman utterly rejects the article citing his alleged views which appeared in Al Akhbar on 12 October 2013,” a statement by his office said.

“The quotes in the article were fabricated, and do not reflect [U.N.] Under-Secretary-General [for Political Affairs] Feltman’s views,” it added.

Al-Akhbar quoted Feltman, in an article published Saturday, as telling his visitors at the margins of the U.N. General Assembly last week that Saudi Arabia was the “worst government.”

The report quoted Feltman as saying that Riyadh “went crazy over the Iranian-American rapprochement to the point that Foreign Affairs Minister Saud al-Faysal rejected to deliver a speech at the Assembly and did not even distribute copies to the attendees.”

Al-Akhbar, a long-time critic of Feltman, also quoted the former U.S. ambassador to Beirut as saying that Saudi Arabia did not want a government to be formed in Lebanon and that it was “disrupting everything” in the country.

The U.N. statement Monday said the quotes were not confirmed with the U.N. prior to their publications.

“In reality, the United Nations – and Under-Secretary-General Feltman as head of its Department of Political Affairs – works closely with Saudi officials on a number of topics, from the transition in Yemen to counter-terrorism and beyond,” it said.

“The United Nations highly appreciates the role the Kingdom plays on these issues, and greatly values the long standing support of the Saudi government for the work of the United Nations in the region.”

Feltman is a controversial figure in Lebanese politics and has been heavily criticized by the Hezbollah-lead March 8 group particularly when he served as a U.S. envoy between 2004 and 2008.

Feltman: Saudi Arabia slut does not want the government in Lebanon

alakhbar

Feltman: I do not know how the Department will continue Arabia judgment (Haitham Moussawi)

In an unprecedented political evolution in public, launched a former U.S. ambassador in Beirut, Jeffrey Feltman violent crackdown on Arabia, ناعتا the rulers Boqza, descriptions, while he was a violent attack of the leading confidant of Prime Minister Saad Hariri MP Sakr punishment on MP Walid Jumblatt, who refused to respond to it

Move some Lebanese officials and Arabs who met with the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Political Affairs (former U.S. ambassador in Beirut), Jeffrey Feltman, on the sidelines of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia, saying they do not want the government never in Lebanon.

Feltman told the visitors: «I have not seen the rudest and worst from the Saudi government, he said, adding:« I do not know how this administration will continue to rule.
He reviewed the UN official and a former American diplomat certain positions for Saudi Arabia, pointing out «that after the Saudis dispute with Iraq, severed all ties with him, and its officials no longer bear to see anything good in this country. And when they saw the signs of American Iranian rapprochement Jane madness, so much so that Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has not only not to address his country in the meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations, but he did not distribute it to the audience. Feltman asked: ‘Is it possible for this hatred? ».
Feltman pointed out that the Riyadh deal in this same way with Lebanon, they «do not want to hear the word of Lebanon, not even the name of President Michel Suleiman. All this because of bad management. He stressed that «Saudi Arabia does not want the government in Lebanon at all, which disrupted everything in it.

Saqr filed Jumblatt

In the meantime, emerged as a violent attack last president Saad Hariri MP Walid Jumblatt, through a statement issued by the Attorney punishment Sakr, yesterday, responded to say a Jumblatt said in an interview with the newspaper «Ambassador» said yesterday that the March 14 forces preceded the Hezbollah to participate in Syria , through Saqr and others. Saqr said in a statement that «we must draw his attention to what we support political and media and human is one of the simplest and duties of the human being to the people being slaughtered daily.
He added: «well aware that he is entitled to« pick »What is not entitled to other colors jump ropes major policies, on the basis of a vision, but a vision strategy deep, the only constant in which تبدلها clock», pointing out that «should master selected to be aware well the limits of sovereignty and geographically fief.
Saqr concluded by noting the following: «from my firm conviction that what is recorded by Jumblatt Beck of positions, it is the only expansion precedes a turn for the new doors, the oldest of this statement as a service may help turn more smoothly to enter Jericho, safety Raafqatkm».
For his part, Jumblatt rejected in connection with the ‘news’ to comment on the statement Sakr, and said:’ Am I crazy to comment on it? ». And whether the statement issued by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Jumblatt said: ‘I do not know’.

Faltering government continues

Government, the government is still faltering master of the situation internally. This was confirmed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam after meeting yesterday Suleiman at the Baabda Palace. He said: «If we listened to some of the positions and see if the permits concerned political forces do not want to facilitate this matter, and thus increasing the conditions and obstacles. I hope, as I said but give up the Secretariat only after being convinced that the pursuit would not work.
And seeing «that the formation of the government has become a matter of urgency and down, he said: ‘I will stay and President Michel Suleiman seek much transparency and sincerity, to form a government. He said he will continue to look after Eid al-Adha, pointing to «that all formulas are still open, as well as the possibilities, and can not shut the door.
The head of the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Mohammad Raad said Hezbollah does not put conditions for the formation of the government. He pointed out that «some Atlty behind the demand not to mention the resistance in the ministerial statement, because he wants to serve the project of others, which raises the slogan drop resistance and disarm», adding that «they do not want the resistance to be represented in the government, because they originally demanded by shooting down, and when we say It must come ministerial statement to mention the resistance, we say that we put conditions ».
On the other hand, the Minister of Energy and Water in the caretaker government Gebran Bassil, before returning to Moscow the day before yesterday, during a press conference at the agency «Novosti» news agency, that «his visit to Russia took place at the invitation of Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, of for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Lebanon and Russia in the field of oil and gas. He stressed that «the Lebanese completed preparations for the start of the exploration process. He explained that we «opened five blocks, will all Nlzimha, but some of them, but he pointed out that« there is a Lebanese party internally about himself declared in an official statement that with the lack of this bit. It is unfortunate that this line will meet with Turkish-Israeli project through Cyprus to the Israeli supplying gas to Europe, which is gas interested delayed project Lebanese raced on European markets.
Circular on Mari
In another area, indicated Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in its circulation, to the representatives of the Special Court gave yesterday to the Lebanese authorities posters on the fifth accused in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Hassan Habib Merhi, for the purpose of public announcement. And asked ‘poster published in the media, to inform the general public, and call upon the accused to surrender himself to the court. The statement said that «the information that was given to the Lebanese authorities include personal details about Mr. Marei, and two Tarafan identity.
On the other hand, the President of the National Center on away, former candidate for the parliamentary elections, Kamal goodness, in solidarity with him after the arrest of the General Directorate of Public Security set contained in the investigation file her she was preparing to assassinate him. Goodness said: «tried to incite sectarian and talk about one of my sons was killed in Syria, and arrest at the hands of the terrorists in Syria. He added: «We نتعاطى with it lightly, because we are reassured to our presence in this region, which we cherish, and that can not stand against her son, but things began to take another turn after chatter repeated assassination operations may get, and jumped symbols in favor of the resistance, and we have taken measures necessary.
And called on everyone to «return to their senses and take note of the seriousness of what is one of the strife between the sons of the Islamic community, and between Sunnis each other, through the execution of the bombing or assassination.

No Plans for Hezbollah To Fight In Qalamoun

albawaba news
A rebel fighter monitors the surrounding area during clashes with government forces in the Syrian northeastern city of Deir Ezzor, on October 28, 2013. (Photo: AFP – Ahmad Aboud)

It appears that the much-hyped “Great Battle of Qalamoun” will only take place in the media. While the Syrian army does not deny that it has been mobilizing troops in the vicinity of the Qalamoun district, a Qusayr-like battle is not inevitable. Instead, gradual advances are taking place to spare Qalamoun large-scale devastation.

There are daily battles in Qalamoun, the western Syrian mountain range that extends from the Dreij area in the south to Homs. The mountain range may be seen as part of the Eastern Lebanon Mountains, which link Mount Hermon in the south to the plains of Homs.

In truth, this could be a time when Damascus is most reassured to the movements on the battlefield ever since the Syrian army began its counterattack in November 2012. The plan to establish a safe zone around Damascus by securing eastern and western Ghouta is making headway, and also in Homs, where the Syrian army now controls up to 80 percent of the city, according to Syrian military sources.

In Daraa, which the army considers to be a weak link in its security plans as arms and fighters continue to flow through it to the Damascus countryside, efforts are underway to cut supply routes and secure the city. The fierce shelling sustained throughout the past week against the strongholds of al-Nusra Front and the Army of Islam there can be seen in this context. The situation in Idlib is similar to that of Daraa.

But sources say that the situation in Aleppo and its countryside is quite different from the rest of the battlefronts. Those in charge in Damascus are convinced that the battle of Aleppo cannot be settled by tanks and warplanes, but only by a political agreement, which the sources say “will come sooner or later, compelling Turkey to close the borders and isolate the militants regardless of their affiliations, before the Syrian army begins pursuing them in the vast areas of the north.”

“The Army will keep its hold on the liberated neighborhoods in [Aleppo] and access routes, and attempt to expand the safe zone as much as possible, while continuing military operations and precision targeting of militant weapons caches and command centers.”

What About Qalamoun?

Sources say that the army prioritizes its operations, especially in a vast and complex area like Qalamoun. For instance, the army proceeds to first secure the areas that “pose a threat to the army’s main weapons caches, airstrips, or bases, and also the areas that compromise strategic routes, followed by areas that constitute a direct threat to Damascus.”

No doubt, Qalamoun, and its Lebanese extensions in Ersal and the wilderness around it, has become a haven for a large number of Syrian opposition fighters from various affiliations, starting with the Army of Islam, al-Furqan Brigades, and Suqur al-Sham Brigades, and not ending with al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and other militants fleeing the battles in Ghouta. The area also poses a direct risk to the international expressway between Damascus and the governorates of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Tartous, and Latakia.

Subsequently, it is of paramount importance for the Syrian army to retake Qalamoun. But the sources explained how the methods used in the battle of Qusayr and its countryside are not appropriate in Qalamoun’s case, not only because of the different geography, but also because of current political circumstances.

The sources said: “Settling the war in Qusayr was the beginning of a political transformation and the reversal of international attitudes in favor of the regime and its allies.”

“Any battle in Qalamoun in the current political climate could damage political cards ahead of Geneva II, if it convenes, rather than being a point of strength, if settling the battle is delayed and the army is unable to achieve quick results, which is to be expected given the size of the area and its harsh topography.”

The sources added, “The military leadership and allies are convinced that things on the battlefield are going well after learning the lessons from the battles over the past two years, and exposing the tactics of the militants and those who back them.”

Carrot and Stick

A few sandbags are all that separate the towns of Qalamoun from the areas now under the Syrian army’s control. Each town has one entrance guarded by the Syrian army, which prevents wanted fugitives and militants from leaving these areas, and only civilians can enter or leave through the checkpoints. Only Deir Attiya appears confident and comfortable with its security situation, compared to its “explosive” surroundings in Qalamoun, beginning with Rankous opposite the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, all the way to Zabadani in the south, in addition to the towns located near Damascus’s northern approaches in the direction of Homs.

The Syrian army is operating on the basis that a major battle will take place here, massing troops prepared for alpine combat in more than one area, whether all the way to the Lebanese border to the west, or the south in the direction of the Barada Valley and Rankous, or the center in al-Nabak. Despite this heavy deployment, well-placed sources concerned with the battles in Qalamoun say that the army does not intend to carry out a large-scale assault on an area of this size with extensive supply lines running from places like Ersal.

The sources said, “The army has other plans, such as disjointing the area and besieging heavy militant concentrations, as well as the carrot-and-stick policy, for example.”

In a few weeks, snow will cover all mountainous roads. According to the sources, “The weather begins to intensify in late November in this high-altitude area. Snow will cut off more than 70 percent of the militants’ supply routes, mainly those extending from Ersal. In parallel, the Syrian air force, artillery emplacements, and rocket batteries will cut off the rest, placing the militants under siege from both the snow and the army.”

The Talfita Model

Those who saw the village of Talfita’s residents throwing rice at Syrian army soldiers and receiving them with songs and Syrian flags, will understand the Syrian army’s course of action. An informed Syrian military source said, “People everywhere are tired of the actions of the militants, their violations, and their infighting, especially in Qalamoun. The areas hosting the militants have started to come to their senses, asking foreign fighters to leave the villages, and urging their compatriots to turn themselves in and find a solution with the government. This is what happened in Talfita, where militants handed themselves over to the army, while foreign fighters were expelled.”

The Syrian army is thus relying on dismantling the “nurturing environments” of the militants. The source did not deny that the residents have provided intelligence to the army, “because they are sick of the militants’ occupation of their villages.”

The source then explained why the tactic of gradually snatching territory, which proved its worth in areas like Ghouta and Homs, could be the ideal solution for an area the size of Qalamoun, saying that this would reduce the army’s casualties, while sustaining pressure enables concluding local deals that prevent a lot of bloodshed and devastation.”

The latest battles unfolded in the town of Saddad before the army retook it on Monday, October 28. Sources indicated that the goal of the armed opposition in entering Saddad was to bog down the Syrian army ahead of any major battle, adding that the militants were surprised by the army’s capacity to quickly settle the confrontation. As for Maaloula, the sources said that the situation in the town is now stable and secure to a large extent.

The battle in Qalamoun will not be like the battle of Qusayr. Instead, it will be a systematic attempt to gradually seize the villages controlled by the militants, some through deals, others through force. No bell will ring to signal the start of the battle because the battle never stopped in the first place.

Hezbollah Will Not Participate

The presence of militants in Qalamoun does not only affect Syria, especially after evidence emerged that this region and its Lebanese extension in Ersal have become a staging ground for attacks in Beirut’s southern suburbs and rocket attacks in the Bekaa. Despite the media hype regarding the possibility of Hezbollah participating alongside the Syrian army in any upcoming battles along the Eastern Mountain Range, Al-Akhbar has learned that Hezbollah is not considering taking part in any military activities there, except in the event militants move on Bekaa villages, where Hezbollah is under pressure from the Syrian army’s attacks.

Al-Akhbar has also learned that the Syrian opposition in Lebanon has begun to prepare, “so that the battle in Qalamoun does not pass like the battle in Qusayr without major tension in Lebanon.” This tension would reportedly take on the form of engineered unrest in the north, the Bekaa, and the southern coastline, to distract Hezbollah and Syria’s allies. As for Tripoli, sources said that it would also be part of the unrest.

“For $3 billion we can buy off every tribal leader and every political leader in that country.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California said the estimate the committee had received from the Pentagon was about $30 billion.  

“This isn’t a couple billion,” he said.

He then posed another question. “Could the fact that we haven’t won yet indicate that there’s something wrong more fundamentally, other than we don’t have enough troops there?” he wondered aloud, before directing another question to Keane.

“General, you were in Vietnam,” Mr. Rohrbacher began. “Do you think that we just needed to keep a couple extra troops there and the situation would have cleared itself up?”

Rohrbacher did not wait for a response, but went on to note that $15 billion is the “whole gross national product” of Afghanistan.

screw-you-guys-im-going-home

With US set to exit Afghanistan, is legalizing the Taliban the way to end the war?

A US combat role is slated to end in Afghanistan by late 2014, and negotiations go on over terms for keeping US troops there for training. But some analysts see a need to do a deal with the Taliban, sooner or later.

Christian Science Monitor

By Anna Mulrine 

As the White House grapples with just how many US troops should still be in Afghanistan by the end of next year, some longtime Pentagon advisers are increasingly convinced that any “plausible” deal that ends the longest war in American history will involve legalizing the Taliban.

Others say President Obama should continue to keep US force levels in the tens of thousands so that they can continue to train Afghan soldiers in the art of running an army.

More than 12 years after US troops began fighting in Afghanistan and after thousands of lives lost, it is an “inconvenient fact” that the Afghan National Security Forces will not be ready to secure their government or their territory after 2014, says Frederick Kagan, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a former member of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategic assessment team back when the general, now retired, commanded US forces in Afghanistan.

US “combat operations” are slated to end by late 2014, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that any US troops left on the ground at that point will be doing any less fighting, Pentagon officials note, because they will be tasked with training, which often means fighting alongside Afghan soldiers and police.

If the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF, as they are known in Pentagon parlance) are unable to win the war outright after 2014 – a fair possibility, given that they are unable to win the war now with the help of US troops, helicopters, and intelligence assets – ”that leaves only two plausible long-term outcomes to the conflict,” says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow in defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to now-retired Gens. David Petraeus and McChrystal in Afghanistan.

One is a “negotiated settlement with the Taliban at some point, whether near or distant,” he told lawmakers at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee last week. “The other is defeat for the Afghan government.”

A settlement with the Taliban “represents at best a least-bad option,” Dr. Biddle said. “But a deal along these lines would nevertheless be preferable to outright defeat and, properly structured, could preserve the two core interests at the heart of the US war effort: that Afghanistan not become a base by which militants could strike the United States or our allies in the West, and that Afghanistan not become a base for destabilizing its neighbors, including Pakistan.”

Today, analysts and many US lawmakers believe that the White House will opt to leave a US force of some 8,000 to 10,000 troops in the country, though the administration has warned that the “zero option” could be on the table if Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not agree to certain legal protections for US troops.

In a series of recent congressional hearings and think tank discussions, Washington continues to debate the proper number of US troops to stay in Afghanistan post-2014.

Seth Jones, a former adviser to US Special Operations Forces and an analyst at the Rand Corp. sees between 8,000 and 12,000 US forces “that really let Afghans do the bulk of the fighting” as “probably being sufficient.”

Other analysts would like to see the US keep more of its troops in the country. “If the requirement in Afghanistan to achieve vital US national security interests is 15,000 troops but the White House is only prepared to put 12,000, is the president really prepared to put up a fight over 3,000 troops?” asked Dr. Kagan at a Foreign Policy Initiative discussion last month.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff for the Army and now the chairman of the board for the Institute for the Study of War (a think tank run by Kagan’s wife, Kimberly Kagan), told lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that the “residual” US force size post-2014 should be about 20,000 US troops.

At the same hearing, Kagan warned that 20,000 troops would be a “very high risk” but that, “with a great deal of difficulty, it’s feasible.”

He added that, on the basis of his assessments, the force size should be “upwards of 30,000.”

Mr. Keane came with another request: that the US continue to fund the 352,000 Afghan security forces through 2020, and not reduce the funding as many in Congress have advocated. “We’re actually arguing over what – $2 billion or $3 billion a year for five years?” Keane said. “That makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

On this point, lawmakers chided Keane about the “offhand way” he was describing the costs of the war.

“Here in Washington these days we have debates in every one of our committees about where we spend money and how we spend money and what our priorities are, and I don’t think it’s irresponsible for us to struggle through … whether $2 billion or $3 billion a year more in Afghanistan is something that we should be spending,” said Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

Another lawmaker asked Keane what the cost of keeping 30,000 troops a year in Afghanistan would be. “I don’t know,” Keane replied.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California said the estimate the committee had received from the Pentagon was about $30 billion.

“This isn’t a couple billion,” he said.

He then posed another question. “Could the fact that we haven’t won yet indicate that there’s something wrong more fundamentally, other than we don’t have enough troops there?” he wondered aloud, before directing another question to Keane.

“General, you were in Vietnam,” Mr. Rohrbacher began. “Do you think that we just needed to keep a couple extra troops there and the situation would have cleared itself up?”

Rohrbacher did not wait for a response, but went on to note that $15 billion is the “whole gross national product” of Afghanistan.

He then proposed a less conventional end to the war. “I assure you, with the experience that I have had in Afghanistan, which is extensive, that for $3 billion we can buy off every tribal leader and every political leader in that country,” Rohrbacher said. “And for an extra $1 billion, there can be smiles on their faces and they can wave American flags,” he added. “Just get our troops out of there.”

The Pentagon will bring US force levels – currently at some 54,000 – down to 34,000 by February, just before Afghan presidential elections scheduled for April.

The White House says it is still negotiating with Mr. Karzai over a bilateral security agreement to keep troops in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.

He then proposed a less conventional end to the war. “I assure you, with the experience that I have had in Afghanistan, which is extensive, that for $3 billion we can buy off every tribal leader and every political leader in that country,” Rohrbacher said. “And for an extra $1 billion, there can be smiles on their faces and they can wave American flags,” he added. “Just get our troops out of there.”

US Government Power Grid Down Drill—Nov. 13-14

Power Grid Down Drill To Be Conducted By US Government

Power grid vulnerabilities are finally garnering some attention by government officials.

GridEx2

An electrical grid joint drill simulation is being planned in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Thousands of utility workers, FBI agents, anti-terrorism experts, governmental agencies, and more than 150 private businesses are involved in the November power grid drill.

The downed power grid simulation will reportedly focus on both physical and cyber attacks. The antiquated electrical system in the United States has been one of the most neglected pieces of integral infrastructure.

The EMP Commission, created by Congress, released a report in 2008 calling for increased planning and testing, and a stockpiling of needed repair items.

The SHIELD Act, which is stalled in Congress, is the first serious piece of legislation in many years to attempt to address the vulnerabilities of the power grid in. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report gave the power grid a “D+” when grading various pieces of infrastructure and public services in the United States.

The disaster drill is being described as a crisis practice unlike anything the real power grid has ever experienced. The GridEX II drill Nov. 13-14 will focus primarily on how governments will react if the electrical grid fails and, for instance, the food supply chain collapses.

American utility companies are responsible for running approximately 5,800 power plants and about 450,000 high-voltage transmission lines, controlled by various devices which have been put into place over the past decades. Some of the utility companies which oversee the power grid reportedly use “antique computer protocols” which are “probably” safe from cyber hackers,” The New York Times reported.

The Times said experts call the power grid the nation’s “glass jaw.” Even the military gets 99 percent of its power the same way everyday citizens get it – from commercially run companies.

Harness the power of the sun when the power goes out…

“If an adversary lands a knockout blow, [experts] fear, it could black out vast areas of the continent for weeks; interrupt supplies of water, gasoline, diesel fuel and fresh food; shut down communications; and create disruptions of a scale that was only hinted at by Hurricane Sandy and the attacks of Sept. 11,” The Times said.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Curt Hebert stated that if the nation fails at electricity, “we’re going to fail miserably” at everything else.

Hebert also noted that during prior power grid drills, the scenario assumed the system would be up and running again relatively quickly after an attack. This drill will assume it’s out much longer.

If the power grid fails, a lack of electricity and food delivery are only the first wave of troubles facing the American people. Police could face major problems with civil unrest. Of course, there also would not be any electric heating or cooling, which easily could lead to many deaths depending on the season.

A 2012 report by the National Academy of Science said terrorists could cripple the nation by damaging or destroying hard-to-replace components, some of which aren’t even made in the United States.

“Of particular concern are giant custom-built transformers that increase the voltage of electricity to levels suited for bulk transmission and then reduce voltage for distribution to customers,” The Times said in a summary of the report. “… Replacing them can take many months.”

Said Clark W. Gellings, a researcher at the Electric Power Research Institute, “I don’t think we pay quite enough attention to the technology fixes that would allow us to make the power system more resilient.”