January 16, 2013 By 1 Comment
Edward Cody, Debbi Wilgoren and Craig Whitlock
PARIS — Islamist guerrillas seized a number of hostages, including Americans, in a brazen attack early Wednesday on a remote gas-production facility in Algeria, and the United States vowed to take all necessary steps to deal with what it called a “terrorist act.”
Algeria’s official news agency said two people were killed, including a British national, and six were wounded, two of them foreigners, in the attack by what authorities described as a homegrown Algerian terrorist group. There were conflicting accounts of the number of people taken hostage. The agency, Algerie Presse Service, said Algerian troops quickly surrounded the site.
In Rome, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said U.S. officials believe that Americans are among the hostages in Algeria but that they are still trying to determine how many.
“By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” he told reporters after meeting with Italian leaders Wednesday as part of a week-long European trip. “It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others…. I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”
Panetta said it remained unclear whether the hostage-takers are connected to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that France is fighting in northern Mali.
“I do know that terrorists are terrorists, and terrorists take these kinds of actions,” he added. “We’ve witnessed their behavior in a number of occasions where they have total disregard for innocent men and women. This appears to be that kind of situation.”
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack and said 41 hostages were seized, seven of them Americans.
However, Algerie Presse Service (APS) said “a little more than 20 foreign nationals” were captured. It said the hostages were from Norway, Britain, the United States, France and Japan. The captors released Algerian workers in small groups, the agency said.
The assailants arrived in three vehicles and first attacked a bus that was taking foreign workers from the gas-production facility to a local airport, APS said. One foreigner was killed in that attack, and the militants then took over part of the facility and seized hostages, it said. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the attackers were Algerian “terrorists” and vowed that authorities would not negotiate with them.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its airspace to send warplanes to neighboring Mali, where French forces have been conducting airstrikes and support operations since last week to aid Malian troops in their battle against Islamist insurgents. “
Algeria’s participation in the war on the side of France betrays the blood of the Algerian martyrs who fell in the fight against the French occupation,” a spokesman for the Masked Brigade, an arm of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, told Mauritania’s Nouakchott News Agency.
January 15, 2013 By 356 Comments
Jan 16, 2013
“We have a responsibility to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are,” Panetta told reporters as he began a weeklong trip to Europe. “We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia, and we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa, in Mali.”
U.S. defense officials said they were reviewing requests for assistance from France, which sent troops to Mali on Friday in an urgent attempt to prevent Islamist rebels and other guerrillas from overrunning the ragtag Malian army. Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels have gained control of the northern half of the country over the past year, enabling al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa to function unimpeded in a swath of territory the size of Texas.
Panetta declined to provide further details about what kind of military assistance the Pentagon might bring to the conflict, but said one option under consideration would be to deploy transport aircraft that move French troops or equipment.
The Obama administration has previously ruled out placing “U.S. boots on the ground” in Mali. Officials traveling with Panetta declined to comment when asked if U.S. transport aircraft might actually land in Mali to help the French, or if the territory remained off limits.The United States, France, the United Nations Security Council and several African countries have been working for months on a joint plan to intervene militarily in Mali, one of the poorest and most remote countries in the world.
The planning, however, has been undermined by strategic disagreements, a lack of firm commitments to send troops and Mali’s internal political dysfunctions. The country’s democratically elected president was toppled last March in a coup led by a rogue Army captain who had received military training in the United States. Factionalism has worsened since then as Islamist fighters have tightened their grip on the northern half of the country. Another complication is that the United States is prohibited by law from providing direct military assistance to the Malian government because of the coup. The Pentagon had to shut down training and aid programs in Mali last year and remove virtually all military personnel.
The U.S. military already has been sharing intelligence about the Mali rebels with France, an exchange that will continue, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. The official said the Pentagon was also considering whether to deploy tanker aircraft to Africa to provide mid-air refueling for French warplanes.
The United States has conducted surveillance over Mali for years with satellites, high-altitude Global Hawk drones based in Europe and small PC-12 turboprop planes based in Burkina Faso, on Mali’s southern border. Flying armed Reaper or Predator drones over Mali is not an immediate option, however; the Pentagon lacks a base in the region for those aircraft.
The turmoil in Mali was triggered, in part, by a flood of fighters and weaponry arriving from Libya after that country’s civil war erupted. When Libyan ruler Col. Moammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011 – thanks largely to a NATO-led military intervention — many mercenaries and Tuareg rebels who had supported him crossed the Sahara to return to Mali, further stressing the already weak government there.
Asked if the NATO’s involvement in Libya was partly to blame for the unrest in Mali, Panetta did not answer directly but said that al-Qaeda factions have demonstrated an ability to adapt by moving to new regions.
“With the turmoil in Mali, they found it convenient to use that situation to gain some traction there,” he told reporters on his plane while flying to Europe. “There’s no question as you confront them in Yemen, in Somalia, in Libya that they’ll ultimately try to relocate. The fact is, we’ve made a commitment that al-Qaeda is not going to find any place to hide.”
Panetta is scheduled to meet with NATO allies this week in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Britain in what he said is “likely” is last international trip as defense secretary. President Obama has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed him.
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January 15, 2013 By 378 Comments
In February of last year, Congress approved a bill that will allow as many as 30,000 unmanned vehicles to tour the US sky by 2020. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to open up national airspace to drones by the year 2015, but one New York artist is launching a clothing line that will keep you invisible to the robotic aircraft. RT’s
Liz Wahl brings us more…
January 15, 2013 By 382 Comments
Northern Mali was captured by Islamist militants nine months ago; the international community has been debating since then over what action should be taken. The conflict escalated last week when France launched its air assault to “maintain stability in the region.” Eric Margolis, an award-winning columnist who’s extensively covered conflicts in Africa, believes president Hollande is sensitive to France’s role as a former colonial power in Mali.
January 14, 2013 By 36 Comments
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he can ride out the maelstrom engulfing his country, casting into doubt prospects that intensified efforts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed can succeed, according to Syrians familiar with the thinking of the regime.
Although Assad isn’t winning the fight against the rebels, he isn’t losing, either — at least not yet, or by enough of a margin to make him feel he needs to abandon his efforts to crush the rebellion by force and embark on negotiations that would end his hold on power and expose his loyalists to the threat of revenge, the Syrians and analysts say.
It is hard to imagine Assad ever being in a position to restore his authority over the many parts of Syria that have slipped beyond his control. The rebels seeking to topple him have steadily been gaining ground, most recently seizing control of a strategically important airbase in the north of the country, and if the current trajectory continues, the eventual demise of the four-decade-old Assad family regime seems all but inevitable, analysts say.
But concerns are growing about how long that might take, and at what cost, prompting many Syrians to question whether Assad’s confidence might not be merited, given the realities of a conflict so brutally complex, so finely balanced and so entangled in global geopolitical rivalries that there is still no clearly identifiable endgame in sight nearly two years after the uprising began.
“From Day One, Bashar al-Assad was underestimated by the opposition and by the international community,” said Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in London who is one of a number of opposition activists growing increasingly gloomy about the prospects that an end to the bloody conflict could be near. “He is playing a high-stakes game, he’s playing it pretty smart and he seems to be winning because of the simple fact that he is still in power.”
When Assad delivered a defiantly uncompromising speech to supporters last week, the State Department condemned him for being “out of touch with reality.” But many Syrians wonder whether it isn’t the United States and its allies who are out of touch for continuing to press for a negotiated settlement to a conflict Assad still has reason to believe he can win, Abdeh said.
Though the Syrian army has been degraded by thousands of rank-and-file defections and heavy casualties, it is still fighting. Key units comprising members of Assad’s own Alawite sect, an obscure and little-understood offshoot of Shiite Islam, remain fiercely loyal.
Defections from his government have been few and far between. The rebels have been systematically overrunning government positions in many locations, but they have not demonstrated the capacity to make headway against the tough defenses ringing Damascus, the capital, and the key prize for whoever claims to control the country.
His allies Russia and Iran have shown no sign that their support is wavering, and they have their own reasons not to cede ground in the struggle for influence over a country whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of multiple regional conflicts. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its view that Assad’s departure should not be part of any negotiated settlement.
January 14, 2013 By Leave a Comment
PARIS — As France reinforced its intervention forces in Mali with additional aircraft and soldiers, Frenc commandos launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa in a vain attempt to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.
The unsuccessful overnight rescue attempt, in the Somali town of Bulomarer, was separate from President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamist guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months. But both operations seemed to propel France into a position of new prominence in Western efforts to prevent Islamist terrorist groups from establishing themselves — as they did in Afghanistan and Somalia — in countries without solid state institutions that could become launchpads for attacks on European or U.S. interests in Africa or elsewhere around the world.
The failed rescue in Somalia, which cost France the lives of at least two people, dramatized the dangers facing the French military as it takes on the Islamist groups in hostile regions of northern Africa where they have taken root. The Mali-based extremists, for instance, hold seven French hostages and threatened retaliation for Hollande’s willingness to dispatch French soldiers to help restore Malian state authority.
Four French hostages captured in September 2010 at a northern Niger uranium mine and two abducted in northern Mali in November 2010 are held by the region’s main Islamist group, the mainly Algerian al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A seventh French citizen was taken into custody two months ago on the Mali-Nigeria border by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an AQMI spinoff.
Some of their families have questioned Hollande’s resolution to support the government in Mali, fearing it could lead to the execution of their loved ones. But Hollande has consistently replied that the threat of international military action was the best means of pressure on the hostage takers.
Failure in Somalia
The Somalia rescue operation was designed to liberate Denis Allex, the official identity of an agent of the French intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Allex and a colleague were abducted by Somali Islamists in July 2009, soon after the pair, posing as journalists, checked into a hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. In fact, reports at the time said, they were assigned by the DGSE to train the close protection squad of Somalia’s beleaguered transitional government as part of a French military aid program. Allex’s colleague escaped his captors a month later, but Allex remained in the Islamists’ hands in what the Defense Ministry described as “inhumane conditions.” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that “everything indicates” Allex was killed by his captors as DGSE commandos assaulted his place of imprisonment at Bulomarer, an Islamist-controlled town about 70 miles southwest of Mogadishu.
January 11, 2013 By 3 Comments
Jan 11, 2013
BEIJING: Russia and China are planning to intensify their cooperation on missile defense in response to America’s growing missile defense potential around the globe, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Wednesday.
“We are concerned about US plans to build a global missile defense system, including in the Asia-Pacific region,” Patrushev said during the 8th round of Russian-Chinese consultations on strategic security in Beijing.
“Our Chinese partners share our concerns and we have agreed to coordinate our actions in that respect,” he said, adding that it would help both countries to develop a “constructive” approach toward missile defense issue. Russia and China have been keeping a close eye on US moves to deploy missile defenses around the arc of the South China Sea in addition to the planned European missile shield.
Washington and Tokyo agreed last September to construct an advanced X-band missile early-warning radar in southern Japan to join an existing AN/TPY-2 radar in Japan’s northern Aomori Prefecture.
Some reports suggest that US Missile Defense Agency and the US Pacific Command are considering a third such radar somewhere else in Southeast Asia, possibly in the Philippines.
Washington is also planning to expand the grouping of Aegis-equipped US warships that patrol international waters in the region. Moscow and Beijing are objecting US missile defense initiatives saying they are worsening the global and regional security environment, especially military and nonproliferation processes, to the detriment of Russian and Chinese nuclear deterrents. Russia and China have held regular bilateral consultations on strategic issues since 2005. ..
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January 9, 2013 By 368 Comments
21st Century Wire and UK Column’s analyst Patrick Henningsen discusses with RT about how NATO’s recent deployment of missile defense batteries in neighboring Turkey is nothing more than a chess move to prepare for western/NATO airstrikes at some point further down the timeline, and also how Syria’s so-called ‘opposition’ are using the chaos in the country to steal land, businesses and profit from the new black market that has replaced the previous economy.
January 9, 2013 By Leave a Comment
Private Bradley Manning, accused of sharing classified US army files with the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, will get a 112 days cut from his eventual sentence. The victory for his defense team comes after a judge ruled that Manning’s 9 months in prison amounted to pre-trial punishment and was excessively harsh. Retired colonel Morris Davis told us the military is just trying to spare its blushes.
January 6, 2013 By Leave a Comment