Posts Tagged ‘Al-Qaeda’

Turkey says Syria’s Idlib strikes risk wrecking peace talks

January 9, 2018

AFP

© AFP | Displaced Syrians fleeing the fighting in an area of Idlib, which is one of the deescalation zones
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey’s foreign minister on Tuesday accused the Syrian regime of striking moderate opposition forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border, warning it could torpedo talks aimed at ending the war.Ankara is working closely on Syria with Russia and Iran, President Bashar al-Assad’s main allies, but has stepped up criticism of the regime’s behaviour in recent days.

“Regime forces are striking moderate opposition with the pretext of fighting against Al-Nusra (Front),” Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

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MevlutCavusoglu

Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-government forces that are dominated by a jihadist outfit known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former Nusra fighters.

“This attitude would scupper the political solution process,” Cavusoglu said.

“The parties that will come together in Sochi should refrain from” any action that could threaten the talks, he warned.

Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 29-30.

Meanwhile, US-brokered talks based in Geneva between the regime and the opposition are also going forward, albeit at a stuttering pace.

A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.

Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara views as a terror group.

In 2016, Ankara and Moscow brokered a fragile ceasefire in certain areas — which has been bolstered by the negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

Both Damascus and the rebel factions regularly accuse one another of violating the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones, including in Idlib.

A likely future sticking point between Russia and Turkey is the fate of Assad, who Ankara has vehemently opposed throughout the conflict.

Last month, Erdogan said it was impossible to advance with Assad in power, describing him as a “terrorist”.

Syrian regime forces on Monday pounded Idlib as well as the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus, the two last rebel bastions in Syria.

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Syria war: ‘Explosion kills at least 23’ in rebel-held Idlib

January 8, 2018

BBC News

Syrian emergency personnel carry a victim into an ambulance after an explosion in a rebel-held area of Idlib
Syrian emergency workers at the site of the explosion in rebel-held Idlib. AFP/GETTY

At least 23 people are reportedly dead and many more injured after a large explosion in the rebel-held city of Idlib, in north-western Syria.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast struck the headquarters of a minor rebel faction.

Seven of the dead are believed to be civilians.

It is unclear what caused the blast in the city’s Thalatheen Street. Some reports suggest it was a car bomb, while others say it was a drone attack.

The Observatory, which monitors Syria’s civil war through a network of sources, said rescue teams were working to recover the dead and wounded from the damaged building and nearby houses.

Several people remain unaccounted for.

The rebel faction was named as the Ajnad al-Qawqaz group, which includes hundreds of Asian fighters.

It is fighting alongside the Fateh al-Sham Front, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, to repel a Syrian army offensive launched last year.

Idlib province, on the border with Turkey, is one of the last major strongholds of the forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian army lost it to insurgents in 2015, when it became the only province under full opposition control.

The Syrian army and its allies have vowed to take back Idlib and the neighbouring Hama province.

Idlib has seen fierce clashes in recent weeks, as the army pushed to seize a pivotal road between Damascus and Syria’s second city, Aleppo.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (11 December 2017)

‘Large explosion’ kills several at Syrian jihadist base — killed at least 23 people

January 8, 2018

AFP

© Zein Al Rifal, AFP | Syrian emergency personnel search for victims following an explosion at a base for Asian jihadists in a rebel-held area of the northwestern city of Idlib on January 7.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-01-08

An explosion at a base for Asian jihadists in northwestern Syria’s Idlib city on Sunday killed 23 people including seven civilians, a monitor said.

Extremist groups fighting in Syria count thousands of Asians among their ranks, including many from central Asian states and members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of China’s Xinjiang province.

“A large explosion on Sunday evening hit the base of the Ajnad al-Qawqaz faction in Idlib,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that most of the non-civilian casualties were fighters from the group.

He did not specify the cause of the blast, but activists on social media said a car bomb was responsible.

Dozens of people were wounded, particularly fighters, according to Abdel Rahman who said the base was “almost completely destroyed” and that nearby buildings were damaged.

>> Video: Turkish troops begin operation in Idlib province in Syria

The Ajnad al-Qawqaz group includes hundreds of Caucasian fighters and is battling alongside the Fateh al-Sham Front, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, to repel a Syrian regime advance in the southeast of Idlib province.

The area has seen intense clashes following a regime offensive aimed at seizing a strategically vital highway between Damascus and second city Aleppo.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists across Syria, said regime forces had seized more than 60 villages in the area since December 25.

An alliance dominated by Fateh al-Sham controls much of Idlib province where there are regular car bombings, often blamed on disputes between armed factions.

Some residents blame the Islamic State group for such attacks, although the group has no open presence in the province.

(AFP)

‘Islamic State’ seeks new foothold in Africa

January 2, 2018

After the terrorist organization al Qaeda, now the so-called “Islamic State” is trying to expand its influence in Africa. Military means alone are not enough to fight it.

Young Ethiopians hold up a banner at an anti-IS protest in Addis Ababa (Getty Images/AFP/Abubeker)

French President Emmanuel Macron found clear words on terrorism in Africa during his recent visit to Niger.

“The fight is not won today,” Macron said. Within the next few months, one thing was needed above all: “Clear victories for our armed forces against the terrorists.”

In Niger, as with most other countries in the region, few such successes can be claimed.

Jihadi forces have established footholds across the Sahel, in Chad, Mali, and indeed Niger. And the prospects of defeating them and neutralizing their ideology are far from good. At the very least, considerable efforts are required from French and other western troops, together with local forces, to rein in jihadism in the region.

Alternative territory in Africa

Macron’s urgent focus on the next six months was no accident. That’s because the so-called Islamic State (IS) has recently lost large areas that it used to control in Iraq and Syria. Now it’s trying to make up for that lost ground elsewhere, including western Africa. IS fighters in Niger recently showed just how dangerous and combative they can be. Early in October, soldiers from the US and Niger clashed with militants associated with IS on the border with Mali. The battle claimed the lives of four US and five Nigerien troops.

IS “has aspirations to establish a larger presence” in Africa, according to US General Joseph Dunford. He said after the October attack that the US military would make recommendations to President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “for the allocation of forces that meet what we see as the threat, what we anticipate the threat to be.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham found more blunt words: “The war is morphing. We’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

President Macron shakes hands with President Issoufou of Niger (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Djibo)President Macron (center left) met President Issoufou in Niamey shortly before Christmas to discuss terror in the Sahel region

The US has already stationed around 1,300 special forces troops in Africa. France has deployed 4,000 soldiers in the Sahel region to assist soldiers from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Italy is also considering relocating troops from Iraq to Niger, at Macron’s request. Donor countries have so far collected around €300 million ($360 million) to help fund the missions. Another such fundraiser is planned for January in Saudi Arabia, followed by another in February in Brussels.

Read more — UN approves Sahel counterterrorism force

‘Mali is our Afghanistan’

It’s not yet clear whether money or military aid will be enough to stop the expansion of jihadism in the region, or indeed to drive it back. The challenges facing the alliance are immense. Christophe Ayad, a Middle East and Africa analyst for French daily newspaper Le Monde, wrote in November: “Mali is our Afghanistan.” He said both countries were following similar patterns: first a military triumph, then a failed reconstruction and then a gradual spread of new insurrection, more brutal and more politically shrewd than the previous one.

A helicopter with Bundesweher soldiers in Mali (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen)Bundeswehr soldiers at Camp Castor in Mali

Ayad said the reasons for this cycle were complex, and predicted that Western troops’ commitment to the mission would wane with time, not least because they’d start to lose trust in their local partners on the ground. “Local authorities on the other hand are being marginalized by their western protectors, who tell them what to do, even though they do not understand the local conditions such as how to deal with this clan, that tribe, this political group or that militia.” Meanwhile, the jihadis continue to spread.

Conditions for contagion

According to a study by the American think tank NSI, the spread of jihadism is determined by a whole series of factors. Its findings suggest that, ideologically, the Sahel region is a rather difficult area for jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS. The people there are generally not religious zealots. However, the susceptibility to such movements was increased by the spread of Wahhabism, the strict interpretation of Sunni Islam manufactured in Saudi Arabia, in the Sahel.

Other issues that can help foment jihadi movements include specific local political and economic grievances. The perceived political legitimacy of a country’s government can be important, the study’s authors found. They said that the overall risk for the Sahel was high, “given its expanse of ungoverned space, which IS is likely to target.” What’s more, the contributors said that the Sahel “may be the poorest majority-Muslim territory in the world, with generally weak governments in the region, and an absence of national identity in specific states.”

A mix of weaknesses

Such charges could also be leveled at other sub-Saharan states like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. “While the mix of vulnerability and resilience may vary in these and other countries of West Africa, they share a large mixture of all factors, all of which contribute to structural fragility,” the NSI report states.

All this has prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to call for international and urgent action against Islamist extremism in Africa. But he surely knows that speed is but one factor in the fight against terrorism. Paradoxically, what he might need most of all to win this battle is time. A lot of time.

http://www.dw.com/en/islamic-state-seeks-new-foothold-in-africa/a-41977922

Pakistan bans companies from donating cash to UN-proscribed entities, individuals

January 2, 2018

In this file photo, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 12, 2017. (REUTERS)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has banned all registered corporate companies from donating cash to entities and individuals proscribed by the UN Security Council (UNSC).

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“Their accounts are frozen, and the law regarding charitable organizations is being further strengthened to impose higher penalties on donations to proscribed organizations,” Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Arab News.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the country’s apex corporate regulator, said a fine of up to 10 million rupees ($90,600) would be imposed on companies found guilty of violating the ban.
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The SECP said it “hereby prohibits all companies from donating cash to the entities and individuals listed under the UNSC sanctions committee’s consolidated list.”
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The Interior Ministry has so far proscribed 65 organizations and splinter groups — including Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Al-Harmain Foundation — as well as individuals.
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The US has labeled the JuD and FIF as “terrorist fronts” for the LeT, which America and India blame for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
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The JuD and FIF operate large charity networks across Pakistan, includes hospitals, seminaries, a publishing house, medical centers and ambulances.
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The charities also set up free medical camps across the country all year round, and provide emergency support during natural disasters.
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JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid said the organization will go to court if the government takes any action against it and the FIF.
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“We will not remain silent. We will fight a legal battle,” he said in a statement following reports of possible action against the charities.
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“Courts have given permission to JuD to continue with their preaching, relief and welfare activities freely,” he said. “Despite this, the government often takes such steps only to please India.”
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Sajid Gondal, a deputy director at the SECP, told Arab News: “For the first time, we’ve barred companies from donating cash to proscribed outfits. It’s a law now, and we’ll ensure its strict implementation.”
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He said the regulator will monitor companies’ financial statements and annual returns, and impose hefty fines on those found guilty of violating the law.
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But Afzal Ali Shigri, a former police inspector general, told Arab News: “I believe that none of the banned charities receive donations through banks and other traditional channels. All of them receive cash donations either by hand or through illegal channels.”
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Pakistan-US war of words over Donald Trump’s tweet

January 2, 2018

Al Jazeera

January 2, 2018

Pakistan-US war of words over Donald Trump's tweet
Ties between Pakistan and the US have deteriorated recently [File: Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty]

Pakistan has hit back after accusations of deception and providing a safe haven for “terrorists”, levelled by US President Donald Trump via Twitter.

In his first tweet of the year on Monday, Trump threatened to cut aid to Pakistan for allegedly lying to the US and offering “little help” in hunting “terrorists” in Afghanistan.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump said.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

In a strongly worded response, Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Trump is trying to blame Pakistan for its failure to win the war in Afghanistan.

“Trump is disappointed at the US defeat in Afghanistan and that is the only reason he is flinging accusations at Pakistan,” Asif told the Pakistani TV network Geo on Monday.

The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!

“We have already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance.”

He said “Pakistan is ready to publicly provide every detail of the US aid that it has received.”

Separately, Khurram Dastagir, Pakistan’s defence minister, pledged to defend his country’s sovereignty.

Pakistan’s foreign office summoned the US ambassador in Islamabad on Monday and lodged its protest against Trump’s tweet.

Richard Snelsire, US embassy spokesperson, confirmed to Al Jazeera that David Hale was called upon by the foreign office.

Pak as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad on Tuesday, said there is “some strong language coming out of Pakistan”.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan’s prime minister, has called a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), comprising the army chief, naval and air heads, intelligence chiefs and other ministers, on Tuesday to discuss the future course of action.

“The NSC meeting is going to be crucial because the Pakistani government is going to come out with a firm response against what they say is an irrational, irresponsible statement by the US president,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent said.

‘Hostile’ ties

Relations between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated since the Trump administration began taking a hard line on Afghanistan.

Last Thursday, Pakistan’s military warned the US against the possibility of taking unilateral action against armed groups on its soil.

During a surprise visit to the US largest military base in Afghanistan in December, US Vice President Mike Pence said “Trump has put Pakistan on notice”.

WATCH

What does the US want from Pakistan?

Pakistan’s foreign office reacted by saying “allies do not put each other on notice” and calling for the focus instead to be on creating “peace and reconciliation”.

Zahid Hussain, a security analyst, told Al Jazeera that Trump’s “crude” message does not come as a surprise.

“We have seen that relations between Washington and Islamabad have been strained for some time and they are increasingly becoming hostile,” he told Al Jazeera by phone from Islamabad.

He said the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric and growing pressure on Pakistan reflects “US frustration at not achieving any stability in Afghanistan after more than 16 years of conflict”.

US aid

Commenting on Trump’s reference to “$33 billion in aid over the last 15 years”, Asif, the Pakistan defence minister, said: “If we account for it, they include reimbursements too for the services rendered by Pakistan.”

Of the US funds allocated to Pakistan, a considerable portion goes to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which is the reimbursement for costs incurred by Pakistan for participating in the US-led “war on terror” and supporting US operations in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, the US has appropriated $33bn to Pakistan, according to official US figures, sourced from the Congressional Research Service.

As such, total US aid allocated to Pakistan – both civilian and military – since 2001 is $19.354bn.

Total aid actually disbursed during that period stands at $14.788bn, according to US AID figures.

In August, the US said it was withholding $255m in military assistance to Pakistan until the country increased its efforts to crack down on internal “terrorist” groups.

Hussain, the security analyst, said the curtailing of funds to Pakistan by Trump’s administration will not have a significant effect on the economy.

“There will be a period of difficulty if America stops all aid,” he said, “But it will not lead to the complete collapse of Pakistan’s economy.”

Additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Islamabad, Pakistan 

Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz 

Ahsan Iqbal: Pakistan not friends with 'terror' groups

TALK TO AL JAZEERA

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/pakistan-war-words-donald-trump-tweet-180102055709366.html

Ahsan Iqbal: Pakistan not friends with ‘terror’ groups

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Pakistan summons US ambassador over Trump tweet

January 2, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | US President Donald Trump used his first tweet of 2018 to tear into Islamabad, alleging that it provided safe havens for militants

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador, an embassy spokesman said Tuesday, a rare public rebuke after Donald Trump lashed out at Islamabad with threats to cut aid over “lies” about militancy.Ambassador David Hale was asked to go to the foreign office in the Pakistani capital on Monday night, after Islamabad responded angrily to the US President’s allegations that it provided safe havens for militants in the latest spat to rock their alliance.

A US embassy spokesman confirmed Hale met officials, but added: “We don’t have any comment on the substance of the meeting.”

There was no immediate response from foreign office officials.

Trump used his first tweet of 2018 to tear into Islamabad.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump said in the early-morning New Year’s Day tweet.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Pakistan hit back swiftly, saying it had done much for the United States, helping it to “decimate” Al-Qaeda, while getting only “invective & mistrust” in return in angry comments from its foreign and defence ministers.

Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations of turning a blind eye to militancy, lambasting the United States for ignoring the thousands who have been killed on its soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.

After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, Washington forged a strategic alliance with Islamabad to help in its fight against militancy.

But US leaders have often complained that Pakistan, long accused by Washington and Kabul of supporting the Taliban, has done too little to help.

Of foremost concern is Islamabad’s attitude toward the powerful Haqqani network, whose leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban.

The group is accused of some of the most lethal attacks on US forces in Afghanistan, and was dubbed by America’s former top military officer Mike Mullen as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.

For many years it found safe haven in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous northwestern tribal areas.

However the Pakistani military launched an operation there in 2014, and now insists it has eradicated all safe havens in the country.

US-Pakistani ties, long contentious, have taken a nosedive under Trump, who first signaled that the Washington was reassessing the fractious relationship in August, when he accused Islamabad of harboring “agents of chaos.”

The remarks triggered a series of high-level diplomatic meetings in the US and Pakistan, but Islamabad has given few signs of concessions.

The Trump administration told Congress in August it was weighing whether to withhold $255 million in earmarked aid to Islamabad over its failure to crack down more effectively on terror groups in Pakistan.

Related:

Afghanistan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif at a press conference for the 1st China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue held in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Pakistan warns US against unilateral military action

December 29, 2017

Al Jazeera

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A military spokesman said that Pakistan would continue to fight armed groups in the region in Pakistan’s self-interest, rather than at the behest of other countries [File: Naseer Ahmed/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s military has warned the United States against the possibility of taking unilateral action against armed groups on its soil, in its strongest response yet to tensions between the two allies.

Speaking to journalists in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor rejected the notion that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight armed groups.

“We have sacrificed a lot. We have paid a huge price both in blood and treasure,” Ghafoor said. “We have done enough and we cannot do any more for anyone.”

He said Pakistan would continue to fight armed groups in the region in Pakistan’s self-interest, rather than at the behest of other countries.

“Had we not supported [the US], al-Qaeda would not have been defeated,” he said.

Since 2007, Pakistan has been battling armed groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda and their allies, who have been seeking to impose a strict version of Islam on the country. The military has launched multiple military operations to regain territory where the groups’ fighters once held sway.

Violence has dropped since the launch of the latest operation in 2014, but sporadic, high-casualty attacks continue to occur. Earlier this month, at least nine people were killed in a suicide bombing on a church in the southwestern city of Quetta.

The US has often called on Pakistan to “do more” in its fight against armed groups, accusing it of selectively targeting armed groups and not taking action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, both of whom target US and Afghan forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

US criticism

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated the call for Pakistan to take on groups allegedly offered safe haven on its soil.

“We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorist organisations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us,” he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Tillerson’s message echoed US President Donald Trump’s words when he announced a new South Asia strategy in August, singling out Pakistan for criticism. Since then, a series of high-level contacts between the two governments have taken place, although no breakthrough achievements have been announced.

During his press conference on Thursday, Ghafoor linked the difficulty of acting against armed groups such as the Haqqani Network to the number of Afghan refugees resident in Pakistan.

The country is home to more than 2.7 million Afghan refugees, by the military’s figures, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for more than three decades.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/pakistan-warns-unilateral-military-action-171229063851063.html

Report: US, Israel sign secret pact to tackle Iran nuclear and missile threat

December 28, 2017

‘Dramatic understandings’ were agreed at the White House on December 12, and deal signed by the two countries’ national security chiefs, Channel 10 says

Times of Israel
December 28, 2017, 8:58 pm
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israel and the United States have secretly signed a far-reaching joint memorandum of understanding providing for full cooperation to deal with Iran’s nuclear drive, its missile programs and its other threatening activities, an Israeli TV report said.

The document was signed on December 12 at the White House, culminating intensive talks between representatives of the major Israeli and American intelligence and defense hierarchies, headed by the US and Israeli national security advisers, H. R. McMaster and Meir Ben-Shabbat, respectively, the Channel 10 report said Thursday.

Citing both American and Israeli officials, the report said the document was designed to translate into “steps on the ground” the positions set out by US President Donald Trump in his October 13 speech on Iran, in which he decertified the Iran nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump, right, speaks as Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, left, listens at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, where Trump announced that McMaster will be the new national security adviser. (Screen capture/YouTube)

At what the TV report described as a “secret” meeting at the White House, the US and Israel set out a joint agreement on strategy and policy regarding Iran. Specifically, they agreed to set up joint teams to handle various aspects of the Iranian threat.

One such joint team, the report said, will deal with Iranian activity in Syria and Tehran’s support for the Hezbollah terror organization.

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Another joint team will deal with both diplomatic and intelligence activities designed to grapple with Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

A third joint team, it was reportedly agreed, would grapple with Iran’s ballistic missile program and its efforts to build accurate missile systems in Syria and Lebanon.

Finally, a fourth team would oversee preparation for any escalation by Iran and/or Hezbollah.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

McMaster and Ben-Shabbat signed the joint document, the TV report said, quoting a “senior US government” source and “senior Israeli officials.”

Quoting the Israeli officials, Channel 10 said that the meeting confirmed that the US and Israel “see eye to eye on the trends and processes in the region,” and have now reached agreement on the strategy and policy required to deal with them.

“With all due respect to President Trump’s [December 6] declaration on Jerusalem [as the capital of Israel]” Channel 10 reporter Barak Ravid said, the December 12 “dramatic understandings” would have “a far greater impact on the security of Israel’s citizens.”

In a speech on October 13, Trump announced he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal, and outlined a new, tougher approach toward Tehran.

Trump said he was launching the new strategy to check Iran’s “fanatical regime” and warned that 2015’s landmark international nuclear deal could be terminated at any time.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 13, 2017. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Trump stopped short of withdrawing from the accord, but “decertified” his support for the agreement and left its fate in the hands of Congress.

“We cannot and will not make this certification,” he said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

In addition, outlining the results of a review of efforts to counter Tehran’s “aggression” in a series of Middle East conflicts, Trump ordered tougher sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and on its ballistic missile program.

Trump said the agreement, which defenders say was only ever meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, had failed to address Iranian subversion in the region and its illegal missile program.

The US president said he supported efforts in Congress to work on new measures to address those threats without immediately torpedoing the broader deal.

In this Sept. 30, 2015 file photo released by the official website of Khamenei’s office, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony of Iranian Navy cadets in the northern city of Noshahr, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said in a televised address from the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me as president at any time,” he warned.

He added later, speaking of Congress, “They may come back with something that’s very satisfactory to me, and if they don’t, within a very short period of time, I’ll terminate the deal.”

Trump announced targeted sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards, a key instrument of Tehran’s military and foreign policy that the president described as “the Iranian supreme leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”

He said he was authorizing the US Treasury Department to “further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.”

But the US leader backed away from designating the Guards as a terror group, a move that would have triggered a slew of sanctions and almost certain Iranian retribution.

Trump said he planned to ensure “Iran never — and I mean never — acquires a nuclear weapon.”

He accused the Obama administration of lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear accord “just before” they could cripple the regime and bring it to collapse.

“The Iran deal is one of the worst and one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” he said. “In just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint toward nuclear weapons breakout… What is the purpose of a deal that, at best, only delays [Iranian nuclear ambitions]?“ he asked.

Furthermore, Trump said Tehran had failed to live up to certain parts of the agreement as well as “the spirit of the deal.”

He said Iran was “under the control of a fanatical regime” that has “spread death, destruction and chaos all around the globe.” He warned that “history has shown that the longer we ignore a threat the more dangerous that threat becomes.”

“The regime’s two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’” he noted.

He described Tehran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” saying it backs Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and “other terrorist networks,” and warning of “the increasing menace posed by Iran.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-us-israel-sign-secret-pact-to-tackle-iran-nuclear-and-missile-threat/

 

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Bomber attacks Somalia police academy — Overlooked extremist hotbed about to get more attention?

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab lost its foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but has continued its fight, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the Somali capital and elsewhere

MOGADISHU (AFP) – A suicide bomber blew himself up inside the main police academy in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Thursday with several people feared dead, police said.Witnesses said the police were gathering for their early morning parade, and were crowded in an open square when the bomber attacked.

“A man wearing an explosive vest entered the camp disguised as a policeman, and blew himself up,” police officer Mohamed Abdulle said. “There are casualties, and many injuries.”

Abdulle did not immediately have a toll for the number killed but said he feared there could be several dead.

“Medical rescuers are still working on evacuating the casualties,” Abdulle said.

The police camp is Somalia’s biggest police academy.

“Some of the police were already in lines, and others were gathering, when the man in police uniform entered and blew himself up,” said bystander Hussein Ali. “Ambulances have been rushing the wounded away and taking the dead bodies.”

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity for the attack.

However, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab has repeatedly attacked police officers in its decade-old battle to overthrow successive internationally-backed governments in Mogadishu.

The Shabaab lost its foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but has continued its fight, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the capital and elsewhere.

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In Somalia, an Overlooked Extremist Hotbed Simmers

A Somali man reacted after an Oct. 14 bombing in Mogadishu.
A Somali man reacted after an Oct. 14 bombing in Mogadishu. PHOTO: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. is ramping up airstrikes on al-Shabaab, which controls roughly 30% of the country

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MOGADISHU, Somalia—Maimed in the war between Somalia’s government and al Qaeda’s affiliate al-Shabaab, the patients of De Martino Hospital prefer not to talk about what happened to them.

“Everybody’s afraid,” the hospital’s director, Abdi Ibrahim Jiya, said as he walked through a ward filled with recent arrivals. “If you complain and are for the government, you’re afraid of the Shabaab. And if you complain and are for the Shabaab, you’re afraid of the government.”

Such is the balance of fear in Somalia’s capital, a bustling city of three million people where, despite years of international military efforts to stamp out Islamic extremists, security remains elusive and government authority fleeting. In October, Mogadishu was hit by Africa’s deadliest terrorist attack—a truck bombing that killed more than 500 people.

Outside Mogadishu, things are worse. Al-Shabaab controls roughly 30% of the country’s territory, Somali government officials estimate. Alongside Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan, that is the world’s largest swath of real estate that remains under jihadist sway since the recent demise of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

It is also one with a coastline that is easily accessible and as vast as the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

“You look at fighters leaving the Levant as ISIS collapses in Iraq and Syria, and the question is: Where do these fighters end up?” said a U.S. military official familiar with Somalia operations. “Al-Shabaab owns a territory in Somalia that may be a place where they go and that’s something that we’re trying to work with the federal government of Somalia to prevent.”

With key global shipping lanes nearby, a tradition of piracy and proximity to Yemen—another al Qaeda stronghold just across the Gulf of Aden—Somalia isn’t attracting nearly enough international attention, warn senior Western officials involved with the country.

A Somali soldier patrolled next to the wreckage of a car in April.
A Somali soldier patrolled next to the wreckage of a car in April. PHOTO: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“Somalia continues to be a global strategic threat. But, with other international crises, it’s being treated as a sideshow,” said Alexander Rondos, the European Union’s special representative for the Horn of Africa.

That is beginning to change under President Donald Trump’s administration. In recent months, the U.S. military began focusing more on Somalia, which has lived through three decades of war and has haunted American policy makers ever since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu.

There are now more than 500 U.S. troops operating in Somalia, according to the Pentagon, many of them special operations forces. The U.S. has also dramatically accelerated the pace of airstrikes against al-Shabaab. In one such recent drone attack on Nov. 21, the U.S. said it killed more than 100 militants after targeting an al-Shabaab camp northwest of Mogadishu.

Operating mostly in central and southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has also launched bloody raids in neighboring Kenya and Uganda. The group, which formally became part of al Qaeda in 2012, can field some 9,000 core fighters on Somalia’s battlefields, according to U.S. military estimates.

Unlike some other major Islamist extremist groups such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram, al-Shabaab refused to reflag itself as a “province” of Islamic State when that movement was ascendant in 2014. A separate Islamic State-linked group in Somalia counts roughly 100-200 men and operates mostly in the northern Puntland region, according to the U.S. military.

Much of the fighting against al-Shabaab is currently done by 22,000 African Union troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. That African force, however, has suffered horrendous casualties at the hands of the militant group and is beginning to pull out.

To the embattled government of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, widely known as “Farmajo,” the U.S. represents the best hope for stemming extremist advances.

“If we don’t have the support of the Americans, we cannot stand on our own feet,” said Somalia’s state minister of defense, Mohamed Ali Haga. “The Somali security sector is still disorganized. And we need more drone strikes because a drone can strike the snake in the head.”

On paper, the new U.S.-funded Somali National Army counts some 27,000 men—more than enough to tackle al-Shabaab. Only a fraction of that number, however, is combat ready and actually shows up for duty, Western and Somali officials say. With the exception of a small, U.S.-mentored elite unit, the Somali military only has rudimentary weapons and isn’t capable of mounting operations on its own, they say.

“Al-Shabaab are better trained and got whatever they need while the SNA is neither armed nor trained nor paid properly,” said Jawahir Abdi, a lawmaker representing Somalia’s South West state. “At the moment, the government is not winning at all.”

It has been five months since a government supply convoy last managed to reach the South West state’s capital of Baidoa, said the state president’s chief of staff, Ali Ali.

“Al-Shabaab move freely from town to town, from region to region, while the government sits in an open jail. Those with the government can only fly in and fly out. To go by road, you need to have some kind of relationship with al-Shabaab,” Mr. Ali said.

The group’s readiness to kill to enforce its rules means that ordinary Somalis in areas of al-Shabaab influence—including in Mogadishu—are usually reluctant to cooperate with authorities.

“If people want to inform the government about them, they will be slaughtered just to make an example for others,” said Hassan Mo’alim Hussein, Somalia’s state minister of security. “Al-Shabaab are ruthless.”

Challenging the Somali government’s ability to control Mogadishu is al-Shabaab’s key priority—and the group frequently attacks restaurants and hotels that house politicians, government officials and the few foreigners who dare stay in the city.

The likelihood of kidnapping or attack means that Westerners usually move in Mogadishu in armored vehicles and under the escort of several gunmen. Though new buildings and neighborhoods have come up and the international airport has reopened, much of Mogadishu’s city center—built mostly during Italian colonial times—lies in ruins.

A new area of devastation was created on Oct. 14. Even by al-Shabaab’s standards, the truck bombing at a crowded junction outside the capital’s Safari Hotel was particularly gruesome.

The explosion flattened an entire neighborhood with restaurants, part of the hotel and other buildings collapsing onto their patrons. Somali and Western officials say the bomb likely exploded prematurely, which is why al-Shabaab didn’t claim responsibility for the attack.

Somalis are renowned for their resilience and, at the site of the bombing, a temporary tea shop has already sprung up to replace the destroyed parts of the Safari Hotel. On a recent afternoon, a few dozen men sat there in the shade of the gazebo, drinking milky Somali tea. The intersection was busy again.

“Whatever they do, they cannot stop the will of the people,” said the Safari Hotel’s co-owner, Abdelrazzak Ali, who survived the bombing. “Life will continue, we will rebuild and it will be better than before.”

Even in a city used to bloodshed, the October attack has caused an unusual outpouring of anger against al-Shabaab—an emotional wave that the Somali government hopes to capitalize on.

“This has unified people and has become a turning point,” said Mogadishu’s Mayor Thabit Mohamed. “This showed to the people of Mogadishu: Whether you talk or not, whether you give information to the government or not, you are a target.”

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com