05/21/13: The New York Times reports the footless corpse of an Afghan man missing since November was found on Tuesday near the former American Special Forces base to which he was last seen being taken, according to Afghan officials and victims’ representatives. Afghan investigators said that after his disappearance, the man, Sayid Mohammad, was seen in a video being tortured by an Afghan-American named Zakaria Kandahari, whom the officials identified as the chief interpreter for an American Army Special Forces A Team stationed at the base. The American military denies that Mr. Kandahari is an American citizen, and said he was no longer working for the A Team when the video was made. Mr. Mohammad’s body was found about 200 yards outside the perimeter of the base, in Nerkh District in Wardak Province.Mohammad Hanif Hanafi, the district governor, said it was found by laborers digging a water ditch when they unearthed what appeared to be a military-style black body bag. Relatives of Mr. Mohammad said his corpse was largely complete, except both feet had been cut off. Afghan officials say the partial remains and clothing of another missing person had been found earlier near the base, which is now occupied by Afghan Special Forces after the American unit left in March. Afghan officials are seeking Mr. Kandahari’s arrest on murder, torture and abuse of prisoner charges, and accuse the American military of shielding him from capture.
05/21/13: The BBC reports Israeli and Syrian forces have exchanged fire across the ceasefire line in the occupied Golan Heights. Israel returned fire after one of its military vehicles was hit by shots from Syria, Israel's defence forces say. Media reports say no-one was hurt. Syria says it destroyed an Israeli vehicle which it says crossed the ceasefire line into territory its forces control. Syria and Israel have traded fire a number of times in recent weeks. The Israeli military said its troops "returned precise fire" after the vehicle was hit. A statement from the Syrian army said it had "destroyed an Israeli vehicle with everything that it had in it". The statement said the vehicle was shot after it crossed the ceasefire line and headed towards the rebel-held village of Bir Ajam. It warned that any attempts to violate its sovereignty would be "met with immediate and firm retaliation". Syrian gunfire has hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in two previous incidents this week, without causing injury. There have been sporadic exchanges of fire between the two sides in recent months.
05/21/13: The BBC reports about 120 militant Islamists have been arrested in Nigeria's north-eastern city of Maiduguri, as they were organising the burial of a commander, an army spokesman has said. The military has also recaptured five areas from the militants, he added. There has been no independent confirmation of what the army has said. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three north-eastern states last week to quell the insurgency by the Boko Haram group. It has carried out a wave of bombings and assassinations since 2009, saying it wants to establish an Islamic state across Nigeria. A second Islamist group, Ansaru, joined the insurgency in 2012, taking foreigners hostage. Officials say some 2,000 people have fled to neighbouring Niger, while more have crossed into Cameroon, since the army launched its offensive in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe last week. Some 2,000 soldiers were deployed to the region last week, in the biggest campaign to date against the Islamist militants.
05/20/13: The New York Times reports fighting raged on Monday in the strategic Syrian city of Qusayr, as the government unleashed new airstrikes and rebels resisted fiercely in parts of the city even as their makeshift hospitals overflowed with the wounded, Syrian opposition activists said. The toll of dead and wounded also continued to rise for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting its biggest battle yet on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. Both sides have depicted the fighting in Qusayr as a turning point in the war that is raising regional tensions as Hezbollah plunges more deeply into the conflict. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog group, reported that at least 23 Hezbollah guerrillas had died in the fighting. If confirmed, that would be by far the largest toll for Hezbollah in a single Syrian battle. Rebels said they destroyed seven armored vehicles and killed dozens more government and Hezbollah fighters, according to an activist in Qusayr.
05/20/13: The New York Times reports the prime ministers of India and China papered over their recent border dispute on Monday with a friendly joint statement and an array of promises for future economic and military cooperation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India emphasized in his remarks that friendly relations between the Asian giants depended on “peace and tranquillity on our borders.” The two sides promised to appoint special representatives to investigate the reasons for the recent border spat. On April 15, a contingent of 50 Chinese troops was found to have set up camp in the mountainous Ladakh section of Kashmir that India claims as its own. India then stationed troops about 300 yards away from the Chinese troops and the two camps faced each other for weeks before the dispute was resolved. The two sides pledged Monday to enhance cooperation and agreed to joint military training exercises later this year. Their statement also referred to improved cooperation on maritime security. China’s growing maritime presence, including the building of ports in countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan in what has been called a “string of pearls” strategy, has alarmed India. Mr. Li is scheduled to leave India on Tuesday to visit Pakistan.
05/20/13: The Washington Times reports President Obama will discuss the legality of his administration’s secret drone program and other counterterrorism practices during a speech Thursday, a White House official said. Mr. Obama’s speech will be an attempt to fulfill his State of the Union pledge to be more “transparent” with the public about the controversial drone program that has become the centerpiece of the White House's efforts to combat terrorism. The official said Mr. Obama would also use Thursday’s address at the National Defense University to discuss efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The president had vowed to renew those efforts despite being thwarted in his attempts to close the prison during his first term. Civil liberties groups and an unusual coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers have criticized the White House for keeping most details of the drone program secret. Particularly concerning for these critics has been the administration’s rare use of drones to kill American citizens overseas. The administration is expected to increase its use of drones and other counterterrorism techniques as the war in Afghanistan winds to a close at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of US troops return home.
05/20/13: The BBC reports heavy fighting has taken place between government and rebel forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This was the first clash between the two sides since the UN began deploying an attack force to the area last week. Meanwhile, Rwandan President Paul Kagame told the BBC that UN troops had "in some cases" made the situation in DR Congo worse. The UN has nearly 20,000 peacekeepers in eastern DR Congo, where armed groups have wreaked havoc for two decades. The BBC's Maud Jullien in the capital, Kinshasa, says it is the most serious fighting in the area since the M23 withdrew from the regional capital, Goma, in December 2012. An army commander, Lt Col Mamadou Ndala, said 600 commandos were being deployed to protect the city, which the rebels seized last November before pulling out under intense diplomatic pressure, AP news agency reports. M23 rebels attacked government troops about 12 km (7 miles) north of Goma, said army spokesman Olivier Hamuli. The army pushed back the rebels after two hours of heavy fighting, but sporadic clashes were continuing, he added. The M23 had probably launched the attack to disrupt the deployment of the UN brigade, government spokesman Lambert Mende said. But the M23 accused government troops of attacking them first.
05/20/13: The New York Times reports three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer industry security experts and American officials. The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon's own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle. But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies. It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients. But it did say the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before. The hackers were behind scores of thefts of intellectual property and government documents over the past five years, according to a report by Mandiant in February that was confirmed by American officials. They have stolen product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 of Mandiant’s clients, predominantly in the United States.
05/20/13: The BBC reports Egypt has increased its security presence in the Sinai peninsula, four days after seven members of its forces were abducted there. Armoured vehicles were seen crossing into northern Sinai on Monday in response to the kidnapping. A video emerged at the weekend apparently showing the men pleading for their release. The Egyptian president held emergency meetings with security chiefs on Monday morning. The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil in Cairo says the high level meetings and the troop deployment come amid speculation that force could be used to rescue the seven servicemen. President Mohammed Morsi has ruled out negotiating with the abductors, saying there was "no room for dialogue with the criminals". The kidnappers are said to be demanding the release of political detainees. The men, six police officers and a border guard, were captured while travelling in minibuses in northern Sinai, east of the city of El Arish. While the identity of their captors is unclear, reports suggest they are jihadist militants.
05/20/13: The New York Times reports a suicide bomber disguised as a police officer killed 14 people on Monday, including the head of a provincial council in northern Afghanistan, officials said. The head of the council, Rasul Mohseni, commonly known as Rasul Khan, was widely regarded as the most powerful man in Baghlan Province and was a veteran commander who had led northerners in revolt against the Taliban regime. He was killed along with four of his bodyguards and three police officers, as well as six civilians, according to Zubair Akbari, the province’s director of public health. Nine other people were wounded. Mr. Mohseni, who was viewed as more powerful than either Baghlan’s governor or its police chief, had been accused of quietly rearming militia fighters in the north in case the Taliban again proved to be a threat. His brother Mustafa Mohseni is an Afghan general, and another brother, Azim Mohseni, is an influential member of Parliament. They were all prominent members of the Jamiat-i-Islami party, formerly led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was assassinated in 2011 by a Taliban suicide bomber pretending to be a peace emissary.
05/19/13: The BBC reports Nigeria's army has vowed to continue its offensive against militants in the north-east "as long as it takes" to achieve its main objectives. Brig Gen Chris Olukolade told the BBC the aim was to assert Nigeria's "territorial integrity as a nation". Earlier, a 24-hour curfew was imposed in parts of the city of Maiduguri, where the military said it had arrested 65 "terrorists". Maiduguri has been an important base for Boko Haram Islamist militants. Earlier this week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three north-eastern states - Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe - after a series of deadly attacks by militant groups. Nigerian military spokesman Brig Gen Olukolade said the army would continue its operation "as long as it takes to achieve our objective of getting rid of insurgents from every part of Nigeria". Earlier, an army statement named 12 areas of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, which would now be under permanent curfew.
05/19/13: The BBC reports UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on North Korea to refrain from carrying out any further missile tests. He was speaking as Pyongyang test-fired a fourth short-range missile over the weekend. Such launches are routine but come as countries in the region are trying to break a stalemate in relations there, the BBC's Lucy Williamson says. Mr Ban urged Pyongyang to lower the tensions in the region and "resume dialogue" over its nuclear programme. Speaking in Russia after talks with President Vladimir Putin, Mr Ban called the missile tests "a provocative action".
05/19/13: The New York Times reports Syrian troops backed by tanks and warplanes launched an assault Sunday on a strategic rebel-held town near the Lebanese border, pounding the area with airstrikes and artillery salvos that killed at least 30 people and forced residents to scramble for cover in basements and makeshift bunkers, activists said. The town of Qusair has been besieged for weeks by regime troops and pro-government gunmen backed by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. The siege is part of a withering offensives forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been pushing in recent weeks to regain control of the towns and villages along the Lebanese frontier. The region's strategic value is twofold: it links Damascus with the Mediterranean coastal enclave that is the heartland of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam; and rebels smuggle weapons and supplies from Lebanon across the porous frontier to opposition fighters in Syria. A government official in the nearby provincial capital of Homs said that regime troops have encircled the town and that "the offensive to liberate Qusair has begun." The official said government forces have advanced into the town, taking over the municipality building and other vital government institutions.
05/19/13: The Miami Herald reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai will seek increased military aid from India during a three-day visit starting Monday and will discuss recent cross-border clashes with Pakistan, India's archrival, an aide said. The comments follow a weekend report by the Times of India that said Afghanistan's ambassador to India had said the country needs India's help with "equipment and weapons to fight." The Press Trust of India later quoted a spokesman for India's foreign ministry as saying the country is ready to meet any such request. "Yes, we will ask for assistance for the strengthening of our security forces," Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said in a briefing Saturday ahead of the trip. He did not comment on the Indian reports. Karzai's visit could irk Pakistan, especially if any arms deal materializes. Pakistan considers Afghanistan its own backyard and suspects rival India of seeking greater influence there as a strategy to hem in the country from both sides. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since they were divided into two countries when they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 that has included Indian military training of Afghan security forces. Faizi indicated Saturday that Karzai would seek to expand that cooperation.
05/19/13: Phys.Org reports Pakistan is set to become the fifth Asian country to use China's domestic satellite navigation system which was launched as a rival to the US global positioning system, a report said Saturday. The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region in December and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020. It also has military applications. Thailand, China, Laos and Brunei already use the Chinese system, which currently consists of 16 operational satellites, with 30 more due to join the system, according to English-language China Daily. Huang Lei, international business director of BDStar Navigation, which promotes Beidou, told the newspaper the company would build a network of stations in Pakistan to enhance the location accuracy of Beidou. He said building the network would cost tens of millions of dollars. American website Defensenews.com reported early May that Pakistani military experts were in favour of using the Chinese system, even though the availability of the signal could not be guaranteed in case of conflict.
05/18/13: The BBC reports North Korea has fired three short-range missiles from its east coast, South Korea's defence ministry said. Two missiles were fired on Saturday morning and one in the afternoon, the ministry said in a statement. Officials at the ministry said they were "monitoring the situation and remain on alert". The launches come at a time of stalemate between the two neighbours following weeks of high tension earlier this year. Saturday's missiles were fired in a north-east direction, and did not pose the same threat as the intermediate-range missiles Pyongyang was believed to have deployed along its coastline last month. It removed them from the launch site early in May, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula, a US official said. Such launches are routinely carried out by the Communist nation, the BBC's Lucy Williamson reports from Seoul. Tensions were high last month amid threats from North Korea to attack Japanese, South Korean and US military targets in the region and restart a mothballed nuclear reactor that produced plutonium for its weapons programme.
05/18/13: The New York Times reports at least 66 people were killed in bomb blasts in Iraq on Friday, officials said, making it one of the bloodiest days this year as the country struggles to contain spiraling sectarian violence. Two bombs exploded in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, a turbulent region whose population is a mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims. One of the bombs exploded at the edge of a bridge near a Sunni mosque where worshipers had gathered for Friday Prayer. Within minutes, after a crowd of people ran to help the wounded, another bomb exploded in their midst. Officials said 40 people were killed and 46 were wounded in the two blasts. The Saraya mosque, where the blasts took place, is one of the main mosques where Sunnis in Baquba pray and hear speeches to support protests in Anbar and other Sunni provinces calling for change in the Shiite-dominated government.
05/18/13: The New York Times reports Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed an order on Friday requiring the military to review and recertify each person assigned to programs for preventing sexual assault and assisting victims. The order requires a “review of credentials and qualifications of current-serving recruiters, sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates,” and imposes “refresher training” for the approximately 25,000 personnel who are assigned to these programs. Mr. Hagel was responding to growing outrage — across the armed services and the public at large, in Congress and even from President Obama — at the high number of sexual assaults, the failure of military efforts to reduce the problem and inadequacies in assisting victims. Military officers acknowledged that recertification and retraining efforts, while helpful, were unlikely to prevent the type of assaults and violations of regulations that have so galvanized public attention.
05/17/13: Foreign Policy published an article by John Reed who notes that as China commissioned its first-ever aircraft carrier aviation unit, Asia's other rising power, India, gave its carrier aviators a serious equipment upgrade with the introduction of 16 brand-new Russian-made MiG-29K and four MiG-29KUB carrier-borne fighters earlier this week. India has operated old British aircraft carriers for decades. Right now it flies aging Sea Harrier jump jets from INS Viraat, formerly the Royal Navy carrier Hermes. These Sea Harriers are subsonic attack planes with limited payloads operating from a carrier that was built in the 1950s. The supersonic MiG-29K is an updated, naval version of the Soviet Union's 1980s-vintage MiG-29, which was designed to counter U.S. Air Force F-15s and F-16s in the skies over Europe should the Cold War ever turn hot. The planes are way faster than the 1980s-vintage Sea Harriers and can carry more weapons capable of shooting down enemy planes and hitting enemy ships. The Indian navy's new MiGs are going to be flown off of India's newest carrier, the former Soviet navy "aircraft-carrying cruiser" Admiral Gorshkov. That vessel has been massively refurbished at a Russian shipyard into the soon-to-be delivered INS Vikramaditya, a full-on carrier that, after much work, looks remarkably similar to China's first carrier, the Liaoning -- herself an old Soviet carrier.
05/17/13: The New York Times reports a top Pentagon official said Thursday that the evolving war against Al Qaeda was likely to continue “at least 10 to 20 years” and urged Congress not to modify the statute that provides its legal basis. “As of right now, it suits us very well,” Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said, referring to the “authorization to use military force,” often referred to as the AUMF, enacted by Congress in 2001. The statute authorized war against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who harbored them — that is, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Lawmakers are considering enacting a new authorization, because the original Qaeda network has been largely decimated, while the current threat is increasingly seen as arising from terrorist groups in places like Yemen that share Al Qaeda’s ideology but have no connection to the 2001 attacks. That possibility has elicited a decidedly mixed reaction. Human rights groups that want to see the 12-year-old military conflict wind down fear that a new authorization would create an open-ended “forever war.” Some supporters of continuing the wartime approach to terrorism indefinitely fear that the war’s legal basis is eroding and needs to be bolstered, while others worry that a new statute might contain limits that would reduce the power that the Obama administration claims it already wields under the 2001 version.
05/17/13: The Miami Herald reports armed men broke into a UN outpost in a buffer zone separating Israel and Syria and abducted three UN military observers, the UN peacekeeping chief said Thursday. Herve Ladsous told a group of reporters that the unarmed observers were held by the Syrian men for about five hours and released unharmed Wednesday morning. It was the third abduction of UN peacekeepers in the tense region since March and underlined again their vulnerability in the spillover of the conflict in Syria, which is now in its third year. Ladsous called the latest abduction "a very serious incident ... that illustrates the very difficult conditions that now prevail" in and around the area separating Syrian and Israeli forces which is supposed to be free of armed groups. UNTSO, the first UN peacekeeping mission, was established in May 1948 to help supervise a truce after an Arab-Israeli war that followed the breakup of Palestine into two states. According to the UN, its military observers, numbering about 150, have remained in the Middle East to monitor cease-fires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other UN peacekeeping operations.
05/17/13: The New York Times reports an Army sergeant was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for the 2009 killings of five fellow service members at a combat stress clinic in Iraq. A military judge, Army Col. David Conn, found Sgt. John Russell guilty of premeditated murder on Monday and imposed the sentence Thursday morning. The only other possible penalty for Russell would have been life in prison with the possibility of release. The 14-year veteran from Sherman, Texas, had previously pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table. Under the agreement, prosecutors were allowed to try to prove to an Army judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that the killings were premeditated. A streamlined court martial ended Saturday. The shooting was one of the worst instances of soldier-on-soldier violence in the Iraq war and raised questions about the mental health problems for soldiers caused by repeated tours of duty. Russell's lawyers argued that he was deluded by depression and despair at the time. An Army mental health board found that Russell suffered from severe depression with psychotic features and post-combat stress. Russell had long sought help with sleep troubles and was stammering and crying for help in the days before the shooting. His commanders were so alarmed that they disarmed him and sent him for repeated visits to mental health clinics, said attorney James Culp. However, prosecutors argued that Russell was trying to paint himself as mentally ill in an attempt to win early retirement — just as he was facing a sexual harassment complaint that could derail his career and his benefits.
05/17/13: The BBC reports an unknown number of militants have been killed during air raids on their training camps in north-eastern Nigeria, officials say. The army spokesman said jets and helicopter gunships had been used to attack several camps. He told the BBC that a plane had been hit by anti-aircraft fire but had managed to returned to base. States of emergency were declared this week in three north-eastern states hit by Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency. Meanwhile, explosions and gunfire have been heard overnight in Katsina state. Residents have told the BBC's Hausa service that banks, police stations and prisons were destroyed in the town of Daura, near the border with Niger. They said they had seen the bodies of five members of the security forces and three militants, but there has been no official confirmation of casualties. Mobile phone networks were not functioning in many parts of north-east Nigeria on Thursday. A security official told the AP news agency that the mobile phone service had been shut down during the military operation. Militants have previously attacked mobile phone masts in the area in an effort to disrupt communications.
05/17/13: The BBC reports Russia has sent sophisticated anti-ship missiles to Syria, US media report. The New York Times quotes unnamed US officials as saying the missiles could be used to counter any potential future foreign military intervention in Syria. Without confirming details, Russia's foreign minister said Russian supplies did not break any international rules. It comes amid growing alarm that chemical weapons may be being used in Syria, something US President Barack Obama has said would be "a red line". Meanwhile efforts continue to arrange an international conference on Syria. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Mr Lavrov in Sochi on Friday to discuss the plans for the conference, which would aim to bring together the Syrian opposition and members of President Bashar al-Assad's government.
05/16/13: The New York Times reports of the crises facing American troops today, suicide ranks among the most emotionally wrenching — and baffling. Over the course of nearly 12 years and two wars, suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily, hitting a record of 350 in 2012. That total was twice as many as a decade before and surpassed not only the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan but also the number who died in transportation accidents last year. Even with the withdrawal from Iraq and the pullback in Afghanistan, the rate of suicide within the military has continued to rise significantly faster than within the general population, where it is also rising. In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people. And according to some experts, the military may be undercounting the problem because of the way it calculates its suicide rate. Yet though the Pentagon has commissioned numerous reports and invested tens of millions of dollars in research and prevention programs, experts concede they are little closer to understanding the root causes of why military suicide is rising so fast. An emerging consensus among researchers is that, just as among civilians, a dauntingly complex web of factors usually underlie military suicide: mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, addictions, failed relationships, financial struggles.
05/16/13: Reuters reports the US government believes a Chinese missile launch this week was the first test of a new interceptor that could be used to destroy a satellite in orbit, a US defense official told Reuters on Wednesday. China launched a rocket into space on Monday, but no objects were placed into orbit, the Pentagon said on Wednesday. The object re-entered Earth's atmosphere above the Indian Ocean. The rocket reached 10,000 km (6,250 miles) above Earth, the highest suborbital launch seen worldwide since 1976, according to Jonathan McDowell at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. China has said the rocket, launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in western China, carried a science payload to study the earth's magnetosphere. However, a US defense official said US intelligence showed that the rocket could be used in the future to carry an anti-satellite payload on a similar trajectory. Neither the US official nor the Pentagon released details of what the Chinese rocket carried into space.
05/16/13: The BBC reports fifty-three people have been killed and 13 villages burnt in central Nigeria's Benue state, local MP Sule Audu has told the BBC. The conflict, which started last week, is said to have been caused by a long-running dispute over land ownership between cattle herders and farmers. Forty people were killed on Sunday, in the worst attack carried out by Fulani herdsmen since last week, Mr Audu said. Nigeria is affected by a spate of conflicts over land, religion and oil. The violence in Benue is the latest sign of the growing security challenges facing the government, reports BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross. Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan cut short a trip to South Africa to deal with a spate of deadly attacks. People from the Fulani community confirm they carried out a series of raids on the rival Agatu farming community after several hundred of their cattle were stolen, our correspondent says. However, they deny killing as many 53 people, he adds. Mr Audu, who represents the Agatu community, told BBC Hausa it was unclear what caused the violence.
05/16/13: The Washington Times reports Russia is engaged in a major buildup of both nuclear and conventional missile defense systems at the same time Moscow is seeking legal limits on US missile defenses, according to US officials. The Russian military is developing and deploying an array of new and modernized anti-missile interceptors that are part of a strategic doctrine that calls for defending against what Moscow believes to be an increasing threat posed by offensive ballistic missiles, said US officials with access to intelligence reports. New systems monitored by US intelligence agencies under development or in the deployment phase include an advanced S-500 missile defense system currently being built in addition to the already available, and very capable, S-400 and S-300 defenses. Additionally, the Russians are upgrading the SH-08 nuclear-tipped anti-missile interceptors that have been deployed around Moscow for more than two decades. US officials said the defenses are assessed as effective against cruise missiles, bombers, jet fighters, short- and intermediate-range ballistic missile, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Disclosure of the Russian missile defense buildup comes as the Obama administration is seeking to reach an agreement that critics say could result in legally binding restrictions on US defenses.
05/16/13: The New York Times reports a Toyota Corolla packed with explosives rammed a pair of American military vehicles in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday, setting off a blast that killed at least 16 people, including 6 American military advisers, and shook the relative calm that has prevailed for months in the city, Afghan officials said. The explosion was powerful enough to rattle windows across the city. It left bodies strewn along the street and one of the American vehicles – an armored Chevrolet Suburban that weighed nearly five tons – lying in ruins more than 30 feet from the blast site. A witness called it a “dreadful scene.” Hezb-i-Islami, a relatively small insurgent faction that often competes with the Taliban for influence, took credit for the attack, which also wounded more than three dozen Afghans. Haroon Zarghon, the group’s spokesman, reached by telephone in Pakistan, said the bombing was carried out by a 24-year-old who grew up south of Kabul. It was the first significant attack in months on a Western target in Kabul, despite repeated efforts by insurgents to launch a major strike in the city..
05/16/13: The New York Times reports Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday that most civilian Pentagon employees would be ordered to take unpaid furloughs of up to 11 days between July 8 and the end of September. The measure, which is a response to across-the-board spending reductions called sequestration, is less punitive than plans that would have seen Pentagon civilians forced to take 14 to 22 days of unpaid leave. “The department has been doing everything possible to reduce this shortfall while ensuring we can defend the nation, sustain wartime operations and preserve DoD’s most critical asset — our world-class civilian and military personnel,” Mr. Hagel said.
05/15/13: Lawfare has this post, which links to a working paper authored by our own fellow Jennifer Daskal and Professor Steve Vladeck. The paper - which is available here - is a more comprehensive effort to explain the authors' view that proposals for an expanded, open-ended Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), from whatever quarter and with whatever caveats, are unneccessary, counterproductive, and unwise. Instead, we offer out an alternative vision for the next generation of U.S. counterterrorism policy—one in which law enforcement and intelligence-gathering capabilities, with the backstop of self-defense authorities, are the baseline. We hope that this is an approach that Congress will take seriously if and when it decides to revisit the AUMF. As this is an early draft of the paper, Profs. Daskal and Vladeck both (1) welcome comments of all shapes and sizes (whether online or via e-mail); and (2) beg readers’ indulgence for typos or other early-draft indiscretions.
05/14/13: The Miami Herald reports disagreements among the countries backing the rebels in Syria have led to a drop in weapons shipments, leaving rebels vulnerable to a government military offensive. The precise nature of the dispute is unclear, but one of the effects is that Saudi Arabia has stopped sending weapons via Turkey and has shifted its supply channels to northern Jordan. The result has been fewer guns and bullets for the rebels in northern and central portions of the country. The lack of military supplies has shown in the rebels’ lackluster performance against a government offensive that now threatens the city of Qusayr, which has been in rebel hands for the past year. Several villages near Qusayr have fallen to government forces in recent weeks along a smuggling route that rebels had long used to move supplies and people into Syria from Lebanon. Yazed al Hasan, a spokesman for the Farouq Battalions, a rebel group that began in the central Syrian province of Homs but whose influence now extends to the Turkish border, where it controls two crossing points, said the consequences of the drop in shipments from Turkey was clear. “The shortage of ammunition means losing the Qusayr front,” he said. He said Farouq had more than 1,000 fighters in Qusayr, which is now largely surrounded by Syrian soldiers and pro-government militia. Last week, the US State Department issued a statement expressing concern that the Syrian government had dropped leaflets telling “all civilians to evacuate or be treated as combatants.”
05/14/13: The New York Times reports a new wave of cyberattacks is striking American corporations, prompting warnings from federal officials, including a vague one issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security. This time, officials say, the attackers’ aim is not espionage but sabotage, and the source seems to be somewhere in the Middle East. The targets have primarily been energy companies, and the attacks appeared to be probes, looking for ways to seize control of their processing systems. The attacks are continuing, officials said. But two senior administration officials said Sunday that they were still not certain exactly where the attacks were coming from, or whether they were state-sponsored or the work of hackers or criminals. Another official said that in the new wave of attacks, “most everything we have seen is coming from the Middle East,” but he did not say whether Iran, or another country, appeared to be the source. Last week’s warning was unusual because most attacks against American companies — especially those coming from China — have been attempts to obtain confidential information, steal trade secrets and gain competitive advantage. By contrast, the new attacks seek to destroy data or to manipulate industrial machinery and take over or shut down the networks that deliver energy or run industrial processes.
05/14/13: The BBC reports North Korea has replaced its hard-line armed forces minister with a relatively unknown general, according to state-run news agency KCNA. Little is known about Jang Jong-nam, who replaces General Kim Kyok-sik. Officials in Seoul say his political stance is not known, but he appears to be younger than his predecessor. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has denounced new joint US-South Korea naval drills that involve a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Mr Jang, believed to be in his fifties, was reportedly commander of the First Corps of the Korean People's Army before assuming this role. He replaces General Kim Kyok-sik, who was said to be responsible for the shelling of South Korea's border island Yeonpyeong in 2010, which killed four South Koreans. Officials in Seoul said they were aware of the personnel change, but would "need more time to figure out the overall direction" and whether the change was significant. Analysts believe the move may be part of Kim Jong-un's efforts to consolidate his influence over the military. Another high-profile military move took place in July 2012, when North Korea's military chief, Chief of General Staff Ri Yong-ho, was removed. He was replaced by Hyon Yong-chol, who is also relatively unknown. Both the Chief of General Staff and the Defence Minister are subordinate to the National Defense Commission, which is chaired by Kim Jong-un.
05/11/13: The New York Times reports a Guatemalan court on Friday found Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during one of the bloodiest periods of its long civil war, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Yasmín Barrios sentenced General Ríos Montt, 86, to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who served as the director of intelligence under the general, was acquitted of the same two charges. “We are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group,” Judge Barrios said as she read the hourlong summary of the ruling by the three-judge panel. Over five weeks, the tribunal heard more than 100 witnesses, including psychologists, military experts and Maya Ixil Indian survivors who told how General Ríos Montt’s soldiers had killed their families and wiped out their villages. The judge said that as the commander in chief of Guatemala’s armed forces, the general knew about the systematic massacres of Ixil villagers living in hillside hamlets in El Quiché department and did nothing to stop them or the aerial bombardment of the refugees who had fled to nearby mountains.
05/11/13: Foreign Policy published an article by Rosa Brooks discussing arming Syrian rebels. As tempting as it is, past experience suggests that arming the Syrian opposition could be every bit as hazardous, difficult and uncertain as putting US boots on the ground. I don't mean to suggest that arming the Syrian opposition should be taken off the table entirely. But if we proceed, we should do so only with the utmost caution: After all, history suggests that US efforts to arm insurgents tend not to end well. Like so many global tragedies, this is one with no simple solution. It's a mess, and any "solution" will be messy, as well. But as with any proposed intervention with humanitarian motives, "do no harm" should be our first priority. If we canhelp, we should, even if there is some risk involved -- but if our actions are likely to just make things worse, we should refrain, painful as that is.
05/11/13: Reuters reports as many as 3,000 African Union peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia in recent years in an attempt to end an Islamist insurgency and bring stability to the Horn of Africa nation, a senior UN official said on Thursday. "You would be shocked to learn that maybe it is up to 3,000 AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) soldiers that have been killed during these years that AMISOM has been there," he said. The 17,700 strong African Union force began deploying to Somalia in 2007. It includes troops from Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Djibouti. "Uganda, Burundi have paid a tremendous price," he added. "The Kenyan troops are, of course, also a large part of AMISOM." By way of comparison, 3,096 U.N. peacekeepers have died since 1948, according to the website of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Somalia is only just emerging from two decades of civil war. Its government is struggling to rebuild a country riven by clan divisions and whose infrastructure and institutions are in tatters. African Union peacekeepers have been largely responsible for pushing al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab out of the capital Mogadishu and other urban centers in the past two years, but the group is still able to launch major attacks, including a suicide bombing on Sunday that killed at least eight people.
05/10/13: Reuters reports Russia's foreign minister said on Friday Moscow had no new plans to sell an advanced air defense system to Syria, but left open the possibility it could deliver such systems under an existing contract. The Wall Street Journal this week reported that Israel had informed the United States a Russian deal was imminent to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. That would significantly boost Syria's ability to stave off outside intervention in its civil war, such as the air strikes launched by Israel this month. Asked by a journalist in the Polish capital about the reports of a missile deal, Sergei Lavrov said: "Russia is not planning to sell. Russia already sold them a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with the agreed contracts, of equipment which is anti-aircraft technology." The question referred to S-300 systems, but in his reply the minister did not specify whether the items already being delivered were S-300 complexes or another system. Lavrov, in Warsaw for a meeting on regional cooperation with his German and Polish counterparts, said the deliveries were in line with international law and for self-defense only. Russia is Syria's main arms supplier and has continued fulfilling defense contracts despite the civil war. Moscow, along with China, has blocked moves in the United Nations for international intervention to halt the bloodshed in Syria.
05/09/13: The New York Times reports Afghanistan is ready to let the United States and its allies keep military bases here after the end of the NATO combat mission next year, President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, offering a concrete public signal that foreign troops would remain welcome in the coming years. The US and Afghanistan are negotiating a security agreement that would allow American forces to stay here beyond the end of 2014, and Mr. Karzai said the Obama administration has asked for nine bases spread across the country. “We agree to give them these bases,” Mr. Karzai told students during a speech at Kabul University. “We consider our relations with the United States beyond 2014 to be positive for Afghanistan.” The American reaction, though, was far less positive than what one would expect. Officials characterized Mr. Karzai’s comments as premature, at best, and said they appeared to reflect the Afghan government’s desire for a larger force than the United States is likely willing to commit. The Obama administration has yet to decide how large a force it would like to keep in Afghanistan, but administration officials have signaled that it is unlikely to total more than 10,000 service members. They said it was more important now to hash out a range of issues, such as whether American troops would continue to have legal immunity in Afghanistan after 2014, than to talk about the specifics of where troops would be based. The American officials also stressed that no matter the final number of troops, the United States envisions using Afghan bases — not its own — to house its forces.
05/09/13: Foreign Policy published an article by Fernande van Tets. In addition to the Syrian civil war's horrible human and economic costs, the conflict has also devastated Syria's cultural heritage. At a February UNESCO conference, the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) called the looting more damaging than the fighting that is ravaging mosques, old houses, and Crusader castles. Only 3 percent of Syria's heritage sites remain outside areas of conflict, according to a map released by the US State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit. A 2012 Global Heritage Fund report also makes for grim reading: All UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria have been affected by the war, from the old cities of Aleppo and Damascus to the Crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers to the Roman city of Bosra. Syria is an archaeological treasure trove, featuring antiquities from the Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, and Ottoman periods. The country hosted up to 100 foreign archeological expeditions annually before the war started. The destruction of the millennia-oldminaret of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo on April 24 is just the latest casualty of the violence. Looting has become more commonplace as the conflict has dragged on. "There wasn't that much evidence of looting this time last year. Now there is," says Durham University doctoral student Emma Cunliffe, author of the Global Heritage report. Similar pillaging followed the invasion of Iraq, the war in Libya, and even the uprising in Egypt. According to Maamoun Abdel-Karim, director of the DGAM, the antiquities directorate receivedat least 4,000 confiscated objects over the course of 2012, most of whichwere recovered on their way out of the country.
05/09/13: The New York Times reports the US, which is trying to bring Syrian rebels and the Syrian government to the negotiating table, is now increasingly worried that Russia plans to sell a sophisticated air defense system to Syria, American officials said Wednesday. Russia has a long history of selling arms to the Syrians and has a naval base in the country. But the delivery of the Russian S-300 missile batteries would represent a major qualitative advancement in Syria’s air defenses. The system is regarded as highly effective and would limit the ability of the United States and other nations to operate over Syrian airspace or impose a no-fly zone. It is also able to track and fire missiles at multiple targets, including aircraft and some missiles. “There are concerns that this might happen,” said a senior United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the possible delivery of the S-300. A Western intelligence service has also warned that the Russians may soon send S-300 air defense batteries to Syria, said another American official who asked not to be identified because he was discussing intelligence reports. Russia and Iran have supported Mr. Assad politically and have provided military support — support that American officials say has fortified Mr. Assad’s determination to hang on to power. American officials had been concerned that Russia might sell S-300 air defense batteries to Iran. But after the United States and Israel raised alarms, the weapons were not provided to the Iranians.
05/09/13: The BBC reports the man tipped to be Pakistan's next prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has said he would end the country's involvement in the US-led war on terror if elected. Mr Sharif told the BBC that the move was necessary for there to be peace in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. Pakistan has been part of the US-led fight against Islamist militancy in the region since the 9/11 attacks. Voters in Pakistan are due to go to the polls on 11 May following an election run-up marred by violence. It is the first time in the country's history that an elected government will hand over power to another elected government. The remarks by Mr Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), may cause concern among Western leaders, the BBC's Orla Guerin reports from Islamabad. They fear it could lead to militants having greater freedom to operate in Pakistan, as foreign troops prepare to leave Afghanistan in 2014. One of the key questions for the West is how Pakistan's next prime minister will tackle militants on home soil, our correspondent says. Asked whether he would take Pakistan out of the war on terror, Mr Sharif said: "Yes, we have to." But he declined to say whether he would stop military operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The business magnate, who served as Pakistan's prime minister twice in the 1990s, said he wanted to work with other countries to find a lasting peace in the region. Meanwhile, there was further violence on Wednesday ahead of the elections. At least three people were killed and about 25 injured - including six policemen - in a suicide bombing outside a police station in the Bannu region of north-western Pakistan on Wednesday.
05/08/13: The New York Times reports a fresh load of battered corpses arrived, 29 of them in a routine
delivery by the Nigerian military to the hospital morgue here. Unexpectedly, three bodies started moving. “They were not properly shot,” recalled a security official here. “I had
to call the J.T.F.” — the military’s joint task force — “and they
gunned them down.” It was a rare oversight. Large numbers of bodies, sometimes more than 60
in a day, are being brought by the Nigerian military to the state
hospital, according to government, health and security officials,
hospital workers and human rights groups — the product of the military’s
brutal war against radical Islamists rooted in this northern city. The corpses were those of young men arrested in neighborhood sweeps by
the military and taken to a barracks nearby. Accused, often on flimsy or
no evidence, of being members or supporters of Boko Haram — the
Islamist militant group waging a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian
state — the detainees are beaten, starved, shot and even suffocated to
death, say the officials, employees and witnesses. Then, soldiers bring the bodies to the hospital and dump them at the
morgue, officials and workers say. The flood is so consistent that the
small morgue at the edge of the hospital grounds often has no room, with
corpses flung by the military in the sand around it. Residents say they
sometimes have to flee the neighborhood because of the fierce smell of
rotting flesh. From the outset of the battle between Boko Haram and the military, a
dirty war on both sides that has cost nearly 4,000 lives since erupting
in this city in 2009, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad, often indiscriminate roundups of suspects and sympathizers in residential areas.
05/08/13: AP reports the Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control - and, if necessary, launch - nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit's launch skills. The group's deputy commander said it is suffering "rot" within its ranks.
"We are, in fact, in a crisis right now," the commander, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, wrote in an internal email obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by the Air Force.
Asked about this at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the service's top official, explained the problem by stressing that launch control officers are relatively junior in rank - lieutenants and captains - and need to be reminded continually of the importance of "this awesome responsibility" for which they have been trained.
Donley said commanders must "ride herd" on the launch crews, and he said the Minot revelation shows that the Air Force has strengthened its inspection system. He said he is confident that the nuclear missile force is secure.
05/08/13: The Washington Times reports sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic across the services, and thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite a slew of new oversight and assistance programs, according to Pentagon documents. Troubling new numbers estimate up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year in survey results released days after the Air Forces’s head of sexual assault prevention was arrested last weekend on charges of groping a woman in a suburban Virginia parking lot. That arrest followed a series of scandals including an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at a Texas base. Officials also are reconsidering the tradition of allowing commanding officers to overturn military jury verdicts, such as an officer did recently in favor of another officer convicted of sexual assault. The Associated Press obtained documents and memos related to a new Pentagon report slated for release Tuesday. The documents show that the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be a many as 26,000, but they never reported the incidents, officials said Tuesday. That number is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011. The statistics highlight the dismal results that military leaders have achieved in their drive to change the culture within the ranks, even as the services redoubled efforts to launch new programs to assist the victims, encourage reporting and increase commanders’ vigilance.
05/08/13: The Miami Herald reports the spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo confirmed that a U.N. peacekeeper was killed in South Kivu province, located in the troubled east of the country. Felix Prosper Basse told reporters during a press conference Wednesday that the Pakistani peacekeeper was killed Tuesday by unidentified assailants, who were armed. No further details were immediately available. Over 17,000 peacekeepers are deployed in Congo, especially in its volatile east, where numerous armed groups as well as units within the regular army vie for control of lucrative mines and trade routes. Last December, the newly former M23 rebel group overran the provincial capital of Goma, before international pressure succeeded in convincing them to withdraw from the city.
05/07/13: The New York Times reports the Obama administration on Monday explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.” While some recent estimates have more than 90 percent of cyberespionage in the United States originating in China, the accusations relayed in the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities were remarkable in their directness. Until now the administration avoided directly accusing both the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army of using cyberweapons against the United States in a deliberate, government-developed strategy to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage. “In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the US government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the nearly 100-page report said. The report, released Monday, described China’s primary goal as stealing industrial technology, but said many intrusions also seemed aimed at obtaining insights into American policy makers’ thinking. It warned that the same information-gathering could easily be used for “building a picture of US network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.” It was unclear why the administration chose the Pentagon report to make assertions that it has long declined to make at the White House. A White House official declined to say at what level the report was cleared. A senior defense official said “this was a thoroughly coordinated report,” but did not elaborate.
05/07/13: The BBC reports North Korea has removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula, a US official said. Pyongyang was believed to be preparing for a launch last month, having threatened attacks in the region. The threats followed tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea in March after its third nuclear test. North Korea has been angered by wide-ranging annual US-South Korea military drills, which ended a week ago. The news that the missiles had been removed from the site on the east coast came on the eve of a summit in Washington between the US and South Korean presidents. Park Geun-hye is to hold talks with Barack Obama later on Tuesday, with the two expected to reiterate a commitment to strong ties. Ms Park, who took office in February, will also address the US Congress on Wednesday. A report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed senior government source, backed that up, saying Pyongyang appeared to have lifted its highest combat alert and moved the missiles, although their current location was not confirmed. The move is the most tangible sign yet that North Korea has stepped back from its threats to launch missiles, the BBC's Jane Little in Washington reports. But a senior US official from the National Security Council warned that, given the North's unpredictable behaviour, it was "premature to celebrate it as good news".
05/07/13: The Miami Herald reports the US Navy says envoys from 41 nations have gathered in Bahrain to begin anti-mine drills in the Persian Gulf amid efforts by Iran to expand its naval presence there. The US-led exercises, which run through May 30, mark the second major show of maritime cooperation in the Gulf in less than a year. Although the Navy says the drills are not specifically tailored to counter Iranian threats, Iran has previously warned it could block critical Gulf oil routes in retaliation for Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program. Iran also has sought to expand its naval capabilities, including plans to launch new submarines. A Navy statement Monday says the drills will begin with onshore training and then move to the Gulf for maneuvers including mine-sweeping and search-and-seizure operations.
05/07/13: The BBC reports India and China have started pulling back troops from disputed territory near the two countries' de facto border, India's foreign ministry says. Soldiers were said to have set up camps facing each other on the ill-defined frontier in Ladakh region last month. The two sides held a series of talks to resolve the row and on Sunday, agreed to withdraw the troops. The two countries dispute several Himalayan border areas and fought a brief war in 1962. Tensions flare up from time to time. They have held numerous rounds of border talks, but all have been unsuccessful so far. A spokesperson for India's foreign ministry, Syed Akbaruddin, told the BBC that India and China had agreed to pull their troops back to positions they held prior to the current stand-off, which began last month. Meetings between border commanders were being held to confirm the arrangement, he added. Indian officials had accused Chinese troops of straying 10km (six miles) into Indian territory on 15 April and putting up tents in the Depsang valley in Ladakh, in eastern Kashmir. China had denied reports of an incursion. The pull-out comes days ahead of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid's visit to China, ahead of a scheduled visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India. Mr Khurshid is visiting China on 9 May, ahead of Mr Li's visit on 20 May for his first overseas trip.