Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Second son of Gaddafi Saif freed from jail in Libya

The second son of former Libyan leader Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, is reported to have been freed under an amnesty. Saif is believed to have been the son Gaddafi preferred as his successor.

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Saif has been held by a militia group in the town of Zintan for the last six years. The militia one of the Zintan brigades are allied with the eastern commander of the Libyan National Army(LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The group just announced he had been released. However, previous reports of his release have turned out to be incorrect. In 2015 a Tripoli court sentenced Saif to death in absentia as the Zintan group refused to surrender him. Saif is wanted by the International Criminal Court(ICC) and is charged with crimes against humanity during his father's attempts to put down the rebellion against him in 2011..
Saif, now 44, was captured back in November 2011 after he had been three months on the run. Saif played a key role in building relations with the west after 2000 and according to the BBC was considered to be a reformist within his father's regime. However, during the uprising in 2011 he was accused of murdering protesters and inciting violence. No one from the UN-supported Government of National Accord(GNA) has confirmed that Saif was released.
The Libya Herald reports that Zintan is in an uproar after the reported release. Al-Ajmaj al-Aitiri who commands the Zintan Abubakr Al-Siddiq brigade that had been holding Saif, reported that he had been released and had left town. The brigade had captured Saif as he fled through the desert six years ago A statement from the brigade said that it was responding to an amnesty for political prisoners from the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) government. The statement added that human rights organizations and the courts should oversee the release of political prisoners. Reports about Saif have in the past turned out to be false. The Herald reports: "Last month, the Zintan military council dismissed as completely false claims by the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fateh Bensouda that Saif had survived an assassination attempt and that he had been handed over to it by Al-Atiri’s brigade."
Saif was visited at the end of last month by the under-secretary for justice from the HoR government, Eisa Alsaghuit who insisted then that he was already a free man. He also said that the view of the eastern HoR government was that Saif was free to go where he wanted. There are numerous unconfirmed reports of where he might have gone including Algeria, Beida in the east or to the south.
While some Zintanis appear angry at Saif's release in the southern city of Sebha there was celebratory gunfire. A recent tweet confirms the Sebha reaction: "Celebratory gunfire can be heard throughout Sebha news that Seif Al Islam AlGafdafi is free.". Another tweet is from the Zintan Elder's Council: "Zintan Elders Council: We refused to use Saif al-Islam #Gaddfi as a political pawn. #Libya" A final tweet suggests that Gaddafi went to Bani Walid in Libya: "Jamahiriya News Retweeted Jamahiriya News The article states that Saif left Zintan to live in Bani Walid. He is now free." We will soon see how much of this is confirmed.

Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region to vote on independence on September 25th

Top government officials and political parties in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq have agreed that there will be a referendum on independence on September 25th this year.

The date was set at a meeting in Irbil chaired by the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani. A statement was issued saying that the referendum would be held in the three provinces that make up the region but also "areas of Kurdistan outside the region's administration" The central government has urged the KRG not to hold the referendum. Neighboring countries such as Iran, Turkey and Syria all with Kurdish minority populations have all opposed a referendum as has the US.
After the announcement the US State Department expressed concern about the vote saying there were more urgent priorities in Iraq than the independence of the Kurdish people. The department claimed that the vote risked being a distraction from the war against the Islamic State. However, by September the IS may be close to defeat in Iraq. In spite of the support given to Kurdish forces in the fight against the IS both in Iraq and Syria, the US has long supported a unified Iraq and opposed secession. However, the US did say the Kurds did have legitimate expectations meaning perhaps that they might support some further autonomy.
In April, a senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said that a "yes" vote did not necessarily mean independence would be declared but that it would held the KRG negotiate the best deal with the central government. In driving the IS out of some regions, the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken control of some disputed regions. This includes the oil rich city of Kirkuk and region, Makhmour, Khanigan, and Sinjar. These are all regions where voting on independence will take place in September. This is bound to produce anger in Baghdad.
In April, PM of Iraq Haider al-Abadi had said: "The desire of our Kurdish brothers to create a country of their own is their right... and nobody has the right to deter them. But holding a referendum at this time is not right as the war [against IS] still rages, the region's situation is not suitable, and some neighbouring countries believe this move poses a threat to the nation's security themselves."
The governor of Kirkuk Naimadin Karim called the decision to hold the referendum important. Baghdad considers his province 'disputed territory'. Karim said that the vote will eventually lead to declaring independence. Kurdish PM Barzani said on Monday that times had changed and that there was no longer a term such as "disputed territory" in their dictionary. Since Kurdish peshmerga now control the Kirkuk and other territories taken from the IS, it seems they will be unwilling to return them to Baghdad's jurisdiction. Karim said: “Referendum will certainly be held to walk towards independence and eventually achieving independence. I am sure the people of Kirkuk will support and vote for it, not only Kurds, but also Arabs and Turkmen." Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city with Turkmen and Arabs as well as Kurds. It remains to be seen whether the referendum will result in ethnic tensions. Certainly there will be objections from Baghdad. Turkey has already voiced its disapproval of the referendum.

Martin Kobler UN envoy to Libya's briefing to Security Council on Libyan situation

(June 8)  Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General gave an extensive briefing on the Libyan situation to the UN Security Council on June 7. This article is a commentary on some of the contents.

Kobler titled the briefing "Setting the Stage for Peace". Kobler still defends the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) as a key guide towards a future settlement of Libya's divisions although he admits: "In Libya, the transition process has not been fully implemented. Parallel institutions continue to exist. The House of Representatives did not yet recognize the Government of National Accord nor did it adopt the Constitutional amendment." Indeed, the House of Representatives (HoR) last defeated a vote of confidence in the Government of National Accord as required by the LPA last August 22. Kobler claims that the GNA and its presidency council (PC) have changed facts on the ground with oil production rising to 800,000 barrels a day. However. one could argue that it is because Haftar has chosen to cooperate with the National Oil Company (NOC) that production has increased rather than any particular increased power of the GNA. Indeed the GNA is now more at the mercy of Haftar. There does not seem to have that much progress on a solution based on the LPA since the GNA failed to gain the confidence of the HoR last August.
Nonetheless, Kobler first key point is that the LPA will remain that framework of the political process. Kobler realizes that as it stands the LPA is not acceptable at least to the HoR and Haftar. Yet he claims that there is overwhelming national and international support for the LPA. It is questionable whether there is overwhelming national support for the LPA. This may be wishful thinking on Kobler's part. Whereas in earlier periods, Kobler has stressed the difficulty of amending the LPA he now takes a different tune claiming that it is not set in stone. Kobler says:"After months of consultations with Libyan, regional and international stakeholders, we are developing a roadmap to allow limited amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement, through an inclusive Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process." Kobler claims that there are different ideas on the format of the talks. One wonders if the format will be found in agreement with the terms of the LPA. Kobler never refers to where exactly in the LPA the terms for amendment are. Kobler says he sees broad agreements on where amendments are still needed. Note he does not say where exactly these are nor if there is any agreement on what the exact amendments should be. Presumably the size of the PC and the role of the commander in chief of Libyan Armed forces are two areas of concern. It is not clear if there is any agreement as to what the amendments should be. The HoR and Haftar supporters may want a three member PC with Haftar one, head of HoR government another, and Serraj the third member. Haftar would remain commander not as now the PC. There has been no meeting of a group to make amendments and no deadline for presenting results to the HoR to approve the GNA as amended, and also amending the constitutional declaration of 2011.
Amna Amtair one of the members of the GNA High Council of State (HCS) chosen as part of a group to amend the LPA accused Kobler of obstructing long awaited meetings with the rival group from the House of Representatives(HoR). She claimed that Kobler was trying to include other parties as well. According to Amtair Article 12 of the LPA says that "parties deriving their legitimacy from the agreement are to only amend, without involving other parties" A group of foreign ministers from Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria also said that the dialogue efforts must speed up.
The second key issue that Kobler deals with is the military situation. Kobler talks of the vicious attack on the Brak al Shati airbase on the 18th of May. He calls the attack a deliberate attempt to undermine the political process. Kobler makes no mention of Haftar's response to the attacks which was to seize the entire Al Jufra area and even advance towards Bin Walid. He has long threatened to enter Tripoli. Not a word about this in the section on the military situation. He mentions the Tripolii clashes in which militia supporters of the former Salvation government were driven from the city. There is not a word about the entrance of Egypt into the military situation. Complete silence on Derna and Egyptian air attacks in Libya. Things like that do not deserve a mention.
In a section dealing with unifying the security apparatus Kobler mentions that he met with Haftar in Benghazi. Haftar told him he wants to go ahead on the basis of the LPA and supported a political process to amend it. Kobler said|: "I encouraged him to let politics prevail and not to pursue military confrontation." Kobler does not seem to notice that Haftar is pursuing successfully a military path. Kobler recommended a meeting of officers from all parts of the country. However, Kobler does not report what Haftar thought of that idea!
Kobler goes on to discuss weaknesses in the economic situation: "The division of financial institutions, instability and low confidence in the banking sector continue to feed inflation and the lack of liquidity. The Central Bank has to decisively address the fiscal and monetary problems of Libya. Libya is still spending beyond its means and its foreign currency reserve is shrinking constantly." Kobler is no doubt correct but it may be difficult to deal with these problems in the face of the security situation but certainly they need to be addressed as Kobler notes. He does not provide any suggestions as to how this could be done. Kobler also claims that national reconciliation is necessary for a durable peace in Libya. However, it is not clear how in the present climate in Libya such reconciliation is possible.
Kobler suggests that the international community should be more strongly involved in finding a political solution. He notes that there should not be competing parallel processes not involving the UN:"Uncoordinated or parallel efforts risk undermining progress and complicating an already complex situation." Some Libyans may feel that part of the political problem is that many foreign nations have their own agendas, which may not be in the best interests of Libyans. All these international meetings have yet to produce any agreement as to how exactly the LPA is to be amended and the political division in the country resolved. Meanwhile Haftar is marching on with his own military solution and Operation Dignity. You will not find that term anywhere in Kobler's briefing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

After worker's death Libya's largest oil field shut down by protest

(June 8) Sharara, the largest oil field in Libya shut down due to a worker's protest. The workers are protesting the death of a colleague according to a source who could not be identified as he she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The stoppage reduces Libya's output by about 270,000 barrels a day. The shut down is a setback for National Oil Corporation(NOC) head Mustafa Sanallah who had just claimed that Libyan oil production had just reached 808,000 barrels a day. He also said that the NOC expected that number to rise to more than one and a quarter million barrels per day by the end of 2017.
The recent output was at its highest since October 2014 when 850,000 barrels per day were pumped. The increases in Libyan production as well as Nigeria are causing problems for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC) that are trying to keep prices up and production down. Cuts were extended after a meeting on May 25 in Vienna.
In spite of the shutdown, oil prices dropped more than 5 percent after the US government reported an unexpected rise in inventories of both oil and gasoline. Yesterday, June 7 US crude futures fell to $45.72 a barrel the lowest sine May 4. The Shahara shutdown is expected to be only temporary and an NOC official said that force majeure is unlikely to be declared although Sanalla did not answer the phone or reply to text messages seeking information.
Crude had just begun flowing from Sharara in western Libya to the Zawiya refinery in late April this year after being closed for three weeks. Another field El Feel was also re-started in April. Before Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 Libya pumped up to 1.6 million barrels per day. Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. Both Libya and Nigeria are exempt from the OPEC cuts. Libyan production in 2017 has improved significantly from 2016. The US is increasing output and Nigeria as well so the oil glut continues even with Libya's main oil field shut down. Increases in prices has resulted in US oil producers upping production and to some extent negating the OPEC cuts.
UPDATE (June9) Production resumed today: "Libya’s Sharara Oil Field resumed production on Friday after two days of closure due to protests".

Eastern commander Haftar captures central desert area of Al Jufra in Libya

(June 7)Forces loyal to Field Marshal Kahlifa Hafter, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the House of Representatives Government (HoR) based in eastern Libya have advanced his power by capturing the Al Jufra region of south central Libya.
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Writing in the Libya Observer, freelance journalist Abdelkader Assad claims that the forces of Haftar's Operation Dignity are close to their dream of entering Tripoli after he gained ground in Al Jufra capturing the towns of Hun, Waddan, and the Al Jufra air base. Earlier he had taken theTimnahent air base without a fight as the Third Force and Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) abandoned it. After failing in a coup attempt, Haftar launched his Operation Dignity way back in May 2014:
In February 2014, Haftar appeared in a televised announcement to reveal that the General National Congress (GNC), which had recently unilaterally extended its mandate, had been dissolved. Haftar called for a caretaker government to oversee new elections. His announcement was soon dismissed with great skepticism by the then acting Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Haftar's actions were condemned as a "coup attempt" and "ridiculous".[27][28]] Three months later on 16 May in Operation Dignity, Haftar began a combined air and ground assault against the pro-Islamic militias of Benghazi, as well as a sustained heavy weapons attack against the Libyan parliament.[2Operation Dignity is still ongoing and to a considerable extent is the source of the present conflict with the GNA.
Haftar''s advances have been helped by bombing by foreign aircraft probably Egyptian. The Egyptians bombed the eastern city of Derna held by Islamists who had driven the Islamic State out of the city using the excuse that camps in Derna had been used to train fighters who attacked Coptic Christians in Egypt. Haftar has several times threatened to drive his militia enemies from Tripoli. Assad thinks that Haftar will use his bases in Al Jufra to "takeoff to Tripoli and western Libya" It is more likely that Haftar will move to other places such as Bani Walid first as Assad himself mentions. He would then continue to Misrata before entering Tripoli. He may be waiting to see if there will be a political process which would go as he wants. So far there has been plenty of talk and meetings but no announcement of when and where there will be a dialogue to amend the present Libya Political Agreement (LPA) or if and when the HoR will meet to vote confidence in the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The HoR last rejected the GNA on August 22nd 2016 and there has been little evident progress towards a solution since then, in spite of a highly hyped meeting in early May between the head of the GNA presidential council (PC) Fiez Serraj and the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar. There were all sorts of rumored agreements but not a single actual agreement was signed. So-called agreements were mostly propaganda and bargaining positions of Haftar.
Leaders of the Misrata city military council, Battalion No.40 of the Bunayn Marsous Operations Room(BAM), have ordered the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) to surrender their weapons and their leader Mustafa al-Sharksi. If they refuse the Misratans said they would use force. BAM supervised the offensive which took the city of Sirte from the Islamic State(IS) The militant anti-Haftar BDB fighters are at the Baghla junction on the road south of Misrata to Abu Grain. This development further weakens the anti-Haftar forces. Haftar would no doubt be quite happy to see Misratan forces battling with the BDB instead of his own forces doing so.
In the east, the Ajdabiya anti-terrorism authority of the LNA said that it had seized a BDB camp near Sukna taking a number of the group prisoners, and seizing 12 tanks, several armoured vehicles and a stash of ammunition. In preparation for political negotiations, the GNA has an odd strategy. It is making itself weaker and helping Haftar grow stronger. Is there some group within the PC trying to throw those opposed to Haftar under the bus?

US-supported mostly Kurdish forces enter Syrian city of Raqqa

(June 6)The US-backed Syrian Democratic(SDF) forces have entered into the city of Raqqa in Syria long held by the Islamic State(IS). The offensive is the conclusion of seven months of planning with air support from the US-led coalition.

The offensive has also seen the SDF a multi-ethnic group but dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) , receive support from US military advisers and weapons deliveries. Today, June 6, the SDF broke into the east edge of the city for the first time and are fighting street battles inside the city.
SDF commander Rojda Felat said:"Our forces entered the city of Raqqa from the eastern district of Al-Meshleb. They are fighting street battles inside Raqqa now, and we have experience in urban warfare." There were also reports of fierce clashes in the northern outskirts of the city as well according to Felat. Raqqa is on the Euphrates river. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights also reported that the SDF had already seized a number of positions inside the city.
Head of the Observatory Abdel Rahman claimed: "They have taken control of a checkpoint in Al-Meshleb, as well as a number of buildings. The advance came after heavy air strikes by the US-led coalition." Access routes from the city to the west, north, and east have been cut off. SDF spokesperson Talai Sello said: "We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists. With the international coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh," Sello told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS. With the international coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh'"
The coalition air strikes on Raqqa have taken a toll on civilians. Yesterday, the Observatory claimed an air strike had struck and killed 21 civilians as they fled the city across the Euphrates on a dinghy. However Rahman pointed out the same route was being used by fleeing IS fighters. It is estimated that there are about half a million civilians in Raqqa about 80,000 displaced from other areas. Thousands have managed to flee to areas held by the SDF.
The SDF operation to capture Raqqa is called the Wrath of Euphrates. The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve announced: "​The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners launched the offensive to unseat ISIS [Daesh in Arabic] from its so-called 'capital' Raqqa in northern Syria." Raqqa was captured by the IS back in January of 2014. The battle to retake it could be long and bloody but would represent a major step forward in defeating the IS in Syria. The US Department of Defense also announced the offensive on its website: “The offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate." The offensive is also covered in another recent Digital Journal article.
Turkey had hoped to be part of the offensive but is not. Turkish president Erdogan is angry that the US continues to support and arm the YPG whom he regards as a terrorist group. He wants Kurdish troops to remain east of the Euphrates river.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Big US firms, Lockheed Martin and Boeing to reap big profits from Saudi contracts

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. will reap billions from Saudi contracts subsequent to President Trump's announcement that the Saudis will buy up to $110 billion in American weapons.

Speaking at a conference in New York last Wednesday, Marillyn Hewson CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. said she could see the company gaining up to $28 billion in new business from the Saudis. Dennis Muilenbege CEO of Boeing Co. also hopes to profit from sales to the Saudis of more than $50 billion for both military and commercial sales. Often these deals involve long term maintenance and sustainment contracts that can run up to 30 years. Typically these contracts make up 70 percent of the total value of sales.
Foreign weapons sales can often take a long time to negotiate and also a lengthy period before delivery. Congress has to be notified of the deal and this can often result in objections as is this case with this deal. Six House representatives consisting of both Republicans and Democrats have introduced a resolution of disapproval that would block the proposed sales of precision-guided munitions and other offensive weapons to the Saudis.
Congress was notified of the proposed sales, as part of a larger arms deal with Saudi Arabia reportedly worth $110 billion, on May 19. Representative Amash a Republican from Michigan one of the sponsors of the bill said: “Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records and has supported many of the extremists terrorizing the people of the Middle East and the world.
These arms sales extend a reckless policy from the Obama administration and prior administrations, and they come at a time when the Saudi government is escalating a gruesome war in Yemen.” Mark Pocan a Democrat from Wisconsin also spoke for the bill: “President Trump’s proposed $110-billion weapons sale sends the wrong message to Saudi Arabia. In addition to regularly dropping U.S. bombs on Yemeni civilians, Saudi Arabia appears to have every intention of using the U.S. weapons from this sale to enforce a blockade on Yemen that prevents food and medicine from reaching millions of people on the brink of starvation.For months, my colleagues and I have been demanding answers to the most basic questions on the U.S. role in the disastrous war in Yemen and have been met with deafening silence from the White House. As we introduce a resolution of disapproval against this unprecedented weapons sale, we are concerned about U.S. complicity in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis now consuming Yemen. Our bipartisan group of lawmakers will be urging our colleagues to take seriously our constitutional duty to vigorously debate the merits of arming the Saudis even further.”
I expect that the profits that the sales will bring to the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin will outweigh concerns about the use to which Saudi will put the weapons. Obama supported the Saudi sales ultimately and Trump will do so as well but with not the slightest complaints about their use by the Saudis.
Senators Rand Paul a Republican from Kentucky and two Democrats including Al Franken from Minnesota have introduced identical legislation in the Senate too that in the House. Under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 a senator is able to force a vote on arms sales. This cannot be done in the house.
Even if the weapons deal passes Congress, contracts need to be drawn up between manufacturer and the country before manufacturing begins. Payment typically begins when a contract is signed with a future payment when the unit actually reaches an assembly line. There is a final payment when a unit is actually delivered followed by sustained payments.
In 2013 the Saudis received permission to buy 25 C-130 planes some as tankers and some a cargo haulers. But so far just two have been bought with the remaining 23 probably failing under the new deal. The Lockheed CEO said that the Saudis are seeking four multi-mission warship. Lockheed is proposing they but a variant of its Littoral Combat Ship. Lockheed also agreed it would form a joint venture that would support the completion and finally assembly of 150 S-70 Black Hawk utility helicopters. CEO Hewson also said that Lockheed's THAAD and PAC-3 missile systems could be on the Saudis shopping list. The appended video lists other items.
The U.K. also sells a substantial amount of weapons to the Saudis. A report on foreign financing of terrorism due to be released in the spring of 2016 has not yet been finished and apparently may never be made public due to its "sensitive" contents. It may be too sensitive for the U.K. government that recently approved 3.5 billion pounds worth of arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia. The report apparently focuses on the role of Saudi Arabia in financing terrorism.

Trump administration seeks to keep full CIA torture report hidden

The Trump administration is taking action to prevent the full CIA torture report of 2014 of 6,700 pages from being made public by having copies returned to Congress which is exempt from laws requiring government records be made available to the public.

The report describes the harsh detention and interrogation programs used by the United States. The White House claimed the move was made in response to requests by Senator Richard Burr, the current Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In a statement Burr said: "I have directed my staff to retrieve copies of the Congressional study that remain with the Executive Branch agencies and, as the Committee does with all classified and compartmented information, will enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report."
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein who had formerly chaired the committee had asked that it be distributed to many executive branches so it could be eventually released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Feinstein said she was concerned and disappointed by Burr's action saying: "No senator, chairman or not, has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case." The top Democrat on the committee Sen. Mark Warner said that the report should be preserved so the US can learn from past mistakes and so it will be sure never to repeat the abuses detailed in the report.
A declassified executive summary of the report was released to the public in December of 2014 and concluded that the CIA's programs using techniques such as water-boarding were more brutal and less effective than the CIA had reported to policymakers. The report even claimed that not a single terrorist attack was shown to have been foiled by the use of harsh interrogation techniques.
Four months after the release of the report the U.S. administration had taken no meaningful steps to end the impunity of those responsible for the abuses outlined in the report of the secret detention program. At that time representatives of the Department of Justice noted that no one had read the classified full reports and instead had left CD copies of the report unread in a secure facility. Feinstein in her attempts to have the report released distributed the report to a number of agencies to prevent exactly what the Republicans are now attempting to do, bury it for good.
Elizabeth Beaver, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA said that the move to refuse to release the report could be a first step in a Trump administration plan to actually reinstate a policy of torture. She said that the details of the report should be made public and those responsible for abuse should be held responsible. Beaver claimed: “If this report is hidden from public view, it will be a massive step backward to a time when the U.S. refused to admit to conducting torture. Top cabinet officials committed to reading the Senate report during their confirmation hearings, and still must keep that promise. The report must be made public.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had litigated to have the full report released, but U.S. courts have ruled that since the document was created by Congress, it was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In anticipation of what the Trump administration might do the top White House lawyer Neil Eggleston wrote to Senator Feinstein indicating that a copy of the full report would be preserved in Obama's presidential archive. Obama could have released the document publicly but refused to do so:President Obama has told Senate intelligence leaders that he will preserve a 7,000-page Senate report on how the CIA detained and interrogated terror suspects after 9/11 in his presidential papers — but won’t seek to declassify the document prior to leaving office. The president has informed the Archivist that access to classified material should be restricted for the full 12 years allowed under [the Presidential Records Act],” Obama’s chief lawyer wrote Friday to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In other words, the public must wait at least twelve years to find out the details of the CIA secret program assuming the copy is not lost somehow.

Khalifa Haftar, eastern commander, captures Al Jufra desert area from unity government

Eastern commander's forces capture the Jufra area including a key airbase as opposing factions including those associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) withdrew.

This development leaves the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to his Libyan National Army in control of the south central desert area of Al-Jufra and also the Sebha region according to Reuters. Haftar does not recognize the GNA and many militia who support it he regards as his enemies, although he has recently praised some Tripoli militias who drove out some of Haftar's strongest opponents from Tripoli. He may be attempting to divide militias supporting the GNA. Reuters suggests that taking Sebha and Al Jufra areas may be a key step in the LNA's stated goal of moving to Tripoli. Haftar may have his sights on other towns such as Bani Walid and the city of Misrata before attempting to take Tripoli. An LNA spokesperson has said that LNA forces will gradually move towards Bani Walid that is almost 350 km (215 miles) northwest of the Jufra area. The Jufra area is about 500 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Benghazi and around the same distance southeast from the capital in the west of Tripoli. As all this is going on, Martin Kobler the UN envoy to Libya, and others are still talking about a political solution and Kobler promises a dialogue soon. By the time the dialogue actually gets underway, Haftar may be close to achieving a military solution so the GNA will be forced to surrender to his demands. About a month ago, Haftar met with Faiez Serraj of the GNA and the two agreed to calm tensions and raised hopes for a political deal. There was no common statement or any actual deals signed. Since than Haftar has continued to try to carry out a military solution.
For the second time opponents of the LNA have simply retreated without a fight. Mohamed al-Afirs, an LNA spokesperson said that they found the Al Jufra base deserted when they entered. The Benghazi Defense Brigades have apparently withdrawn towards the city of Misrata. The base was captured after heavy air strikes. Egypt has been helping Haftar both in the eastern city of Derna occupied by Islamist opponents and in the Jufra region.
Fouad Rashid an official in the area said: "Dignity Operation forces entered Jufra airbase without armed clashes." Sources in another town Hun claimed that Haftar-loyal forces had the town under control with a number of military vehicles seen on the town roads and at entrances. The LNA has also seized the town of Waddan but after clashes with BDB fighters causing several deaths. Prior to the LNA obtaining control there had been 18 air raids on both civilian and miitary locations in the Al Jufra area.
A spokesperson for the LNA Ahmed al-Mismari claimed that the army leadership had no politiical ambitions but were simply aiming to uproot terrorism in the region. Haftar always uses fighting terrorism as his rationale for gaining ground but is in effect gaining leverage for a political negotiation should there ever actually be one. Mismari also confirmed that LNA forces would move towards Bani Walid and then westward. He confirmed that Egyptian air attacks on Derna had been coordinated with the army. Earlier the LNA had said it would lift the siege of Derna for Ramadan. The GNA earlier withdrew its forces from the headquarters of the Third Force the Tamenhint Air Base. Why would the GNA help the LNA and weaken its own position prior to political negotiations?

Easterm commander Haftar gains ground in Libya with help of Egypt

(June 2) According to a report in Al Jazeera, forces loyal to eastern commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched attacks almost simultaneously against forces associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The attacks happened just hours after unidentified jets bombed GNA-held areas. Haftar does not recognize the GNA government. His forces, the Libyan National Army(LNA) are associated with the rival House of Representatives(HoR) government. The Bunyan al-Marsous(BAM) forces who who were involved in the clashes earlier captured Sirte from the Islamic State. BAM forces, who support the GNA, said they were attacked on Friday both by Haftar and by Islamic State(IS) forces in the central district of Al Jufra which is south of Sirte. While IS has no longer control over major centers they still exist in a number of areas in Libya. Al Jazeera's reporter Mahmoud Abdelwahed said from Tripoli the capital: "Fresh fighting has erupted between forces loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to the UN-backed GNA, helped by the Benghazi Defence Brigades in the area of al-Jufra in the central desert of Libya." He said warplanes, believed to be Egyptian, hit 14 locations in Jufra overnight including several residential areas and the Jufra air base used by UN-backed GNA forces. Abdelwahed said the raids caused heavy material damage but there were no reports of casualties. The Jufra area is about 400km to the south of Sirte.
Egyptian president Abdel el-Sisi said on Friday that he had directed strikes against what he called "terrorist camps". On television he said that states that sponsored terrorism would be punished. Apparently this includes the UN-sponsored GNA. Do not expect that the GNA or the UN will do anything other than perhaps let fly some moral put downs and requests that Haftar stop all his successful military endeavours. El-Sisi said: "Egypt will never hesitate to strike terror camps anywhere ... if it plans attacking Egypt whether inside or outside the country." Egypt's original attacks were made on the city of Derna which has been under siege by Haftar for ages. The city is ruled by a Shura Council that is anti-Haftar. The group was instrumental in driving the Islamic State (IS) out of Derna some time ago. El-Sisi maintains that the armed men who carried out an attack in Egypt that killed 29 Coptic Christians and wounded many more were trained in camps in Derna. This is a highly unlikely story. More likely he used the terror attack to help out his friend Haftar while appearing to do something to stop terror attacks. The reports of clashes with the Islamic State have yet to be confirmed in that other reports do not mention it.
The Libya Observer makes no mention of any clashes with the IS but reports clashes between local gunmen and fighters from the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) in the town of Waddan in the Al-Jufra region killed seven gunmen and five BDB fighters. Locals report that the BDB fighters were on the their way to the nearby Al-Jufra airbase after they had been ambushed by gunmen in Waddan who were loyal to Khalifa Haftar's Dignity Operation meant to clear Libya of his Islamist opponents. It began in May of 2014. Forces loyal to Haftar had attempted earlier in the day to advance into Al-Jufra airbase after a night of intense aerial bombardment. They were repelled by BDB fights on the road between Waddan and Zillah another town in the Al Jufra area where Haftar forces are stationed. After the clashes Haftar forces moved into Waddan while the BDB fighters withdrew into the Al-Jufra air base. There is no city of al Jufra as some tweets and reports suggest. It is an area in central Libya south of Sirte with five main towns Waddan, Zillah, Hun the capital, Sawknahan and Al-Fuqaha as well as the airbase. Zillah and Waddan are under control of forces loyal to Haftar.
There are many tweets describing the situation. One tweet claims: "Libyan Army regains control over Widdan & Sokana South of #Libya after heavy clashes with BDB & Mercenaries from Chad." Another tweet remarks: "LNA is gaining grounds in South Libya. HoR will be taking a much better seat at any future negotiations table" Indeed and the GNA appears to be making no effort to reinforce the BDB forces who appear to be providing the only resistance to Haftar. A third tweet notes: "Controlling Jufra is key to holding the rest of the southern region, where 80% of Libya's oil is produced. GNA well choke over this" The actions of the GNA are hard to decipher. They already gave up without a fight the Tamenhent airbase a key base in the south.
While numerous countries especially in the west support the GNA, none of them are bringing any complaints before the UN security council to condemn Egypt's air strikes and giving support to Haftar's military advances in Libya. Instead Egypt will ask for a meeting of the Council at which it will defend its bombings. Now that's chutzpah as the Israelis would put it. A tweet claims: "#Egypt organizes a June 27 UN security council meeting on combating terrorism in #Libya"

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

US sanctions more companies and individuals for dealing with North Korea

On Thursday the U.S. blacklisted nine companies and government institutions for alleged support of North Korean weapons programs. The list includes two Russian firms.

The announcement comes from the U.S. Treasury as diplomats from the U.S. and China were expected to propose blacklisting more North Korean individuals and entities due to the country's constant tests of ballistic missiles. The U.S. is struggling to slow the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Each time the U.S. increases its involvement in South Korea with ever increasing shows of force, the North Koreans take this as evidence that they must develop their weapons systems more quickly to deter any attempt by the U.S. and South Korean to use military action to stop them. So far the U.S. attempt to cut off funds and supplies to the North has failed to stop the North from further developing its weapons systems.
The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Ardis Bearings Lic. based in Moscow and also its director IgorAleksandrovich Michurin for providing supplies to a North Korean trading company involved in the country's missile and weapons programs. Another Russian firm Independent Petroleum Company (IPC) and one of its subsidiaries were blacklisted because they had a contract to provide oil to North Korea. The firm already shipped over one million dollars worth of petroleum products to North Korea.
The head of IPC Edward Khudainatov had been CEO of the largest Russian oil company Rosnest before being replaced by Putin's chief aide in 2012. After serving as vice-president for a time he left to take over the IPC producing about 40,000 barrels a day compared with Rosnest's 4 million.
A North Korean zinc company, Korea Zinc Industrial Group and the Korea Computer Center a state-run information technology research center were also black-listed. The center creates foreign currency for the North and is thought to have offices in Germany China, India, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Kim Su-Kwang an intelligence official was also sanctioned. The Treasury claims he worked undercover in both the UN and Europe. The sanctions will freeze any funds the individuals or companies may have in the U.S. and bar U.S. companies from dealing with them. Sanctions against Russia probably already bar US companies from dealing with them.
The U.S. has also drafted a resolution that has been circulated to the UN Security Council. It would add 15 North Korean individuals and four "entities" to a blacklist for being linked to the country's nuclear and missile programs. However there would be no new sanctions related to recent North Korean missile tests as China opposes any. A final vote on the draft could come as early as this afternoon.
The sanctions would impose a global travel ban and asset freeze on a number of North Koreans, from a man believed to oversea foreign espionage and intelligence gathering, to officials who control media and key government and military appointments. The Vietnamese representative of a bank and heads of two companies also face sanctions. A bank, two trading companies, and the Strategic Rocket Force of the People's Army which is in charge of the ballistic missile program are also sanctioned. Six rounds of sanctions by the UN Security Council have failed to stop the North's weapons programs. While the draft does not call for new sanctions it adds significantly to the list of individuals and companies sanctioned. There are currently 39 individuals and 42 entities and groups blacklisted.
Russia is puzzled and alarmed by a decision by the United States to sanction a Russian citizen and multiple companies over alleged connections to North Korea, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The new South Korean president is in favor of improving relationships with North Korea. The US, on the other hand, is pursuing a policy of increasing punishment and attempting to isolate the north even more. Tensions between President Moon and the US have already developed over the THAAD anti-missile system.

Protesters killed in anti-government protest in Kabul, Afghanistan

(June 2)Protesters in the Afghan capital Kabul demanded the resignation of the president Ashraf Ghani's government after the recent devastating truck-bomb attack in the capital.

There were deadly clashes with the riot police. Four protesters were killed as police fired live ammunition to break up the demonstration. Health Ministry spokesperson Waheed Majrooh said; “In today’s protest four people died and eight others were wounded." The protests and no doubt the casualties added pressure on Ghani's weak and divided government that has been powerless to prevent attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.
Ghani condemned what he called the cowardly truck-bomb attack that ripped through the diplomatic district supposedly the most secure area of Kabul. The attack killed at least 90 people and wounded hundreds more.
In the Kabul protests more than 1,000 demonstrators with many carrying pictures of bomb victims rallied in the morning near the site of the blast. They hold Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah responsible for the blast due to lax security. The two share power. Niloofar Nilgoon, one of many women in the protest said: "The international community has to put pressure on them and force them to resign. They're not capable of leading the country." As the standoff lasted longer the situation grew more tense and regular gunfire bursts were heard. Police in riot gear used water cannon and tear gas to stop protesters from access to the road that leads to the presidential palace. Among those killed according to Afghan media reports was the son of a prominent politician.
The protesters are angry at the Western-backed government which has failed to provide security even in the capital, 3 years after most foreign troops have left. One banner read: "Ghani! Abdullah! Resign! Resign!" Given the weak government and unstable political situation the U.S. may find its plan to possibly send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to break the stalemate with the Taliban even more problematic than it already is. The Taliban control about 40 percent of the country. Even before the truck attack 715 civilians had been killed in the first three months of 2017. In 2016 nearly 3,500 civilians were killed the worst year for civilian deaths on record.
Kabul has been on edge ever since the devastating bombing as it showed militants could strike arguably the most secure district in the city which is home not only to foreign embassies surrounded by concrete blast walls but also the presidential palace. Rahila Jafari, a social activist said: “Our brothers and sisters were martyred in the bloody attack and our leaders are doing nothing to stop this carnage. We want justice, we want the perpetrators of the attack to be hanged to death.” Another demonstrator claimed that until the two rulers resigned the demonstrations would continue: “Day after day, innocent civilians are being killed by terrorists. If our leaders cannot restore security they should step down.” The enclosed video claims that even more were killed in the protests, seven.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

US Jet Blue flight diverted after battery fire

(May 31)Jet Blue flight 915 from JFK airport in New York to San Francisco was diverted after a battery in a laptop caused a fire in a passenger's backpack and started emitting a great deal of smoke.

The backpack was in the rear of the plane when it started to belch out smoke passengers said. One passenger said: “We’re at 35,000 feet and all of a sudden we hear an announcement and we look back in row 25 and we saw everybody standing up and smoke coming around and we didn’t know what was going on.” Kat Honniball, another passenger on the flight said that people began to smell smoke and saw it was coming from a backpack: "I was stunned — I knew something was going to happen because, you know, lithium batteries catching on fire when you're up at 38,000 feet you can't help but think you've got to do something." He said that passengers and crew remained calm during the incident. Although the fire was put out, the plane was diverted to Grand Rapids Michigan where it sat for three hours while emergency crews removed the battery from the plane and inspected it. There was no damage. The plane then continued its flight to San Franciso. The plane was carrying 158 people. The actual battery was not a laptop battery. Grand Rapids Ford Airport spokeswoman Tara Hernandez confirmed that a lithium battery started smoldering, but said that it was not a laptop battery. There was a laptop in the bag with it though, she said.
Only a very small percentage of lithium-ion batteries ever catch fire or explode but as more and more devices contain them the probability of more incidents such as this increases. Last year, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phones were banned from US and Canadian flight last year after several instances of fires and explosions.
There have been 12 instances of battery-related fires on aircraft already this year. Some airlines even stock fire-proof bags for the express purpose of extinguishing any battery fires although Jet Blue did not have any. These incidents show that the banning of laptops from the aircraft cabin may be a bad idea:The potential flammability of laptop batteries is also one concern experts have voiced over the potential expansion of a laptop ban on international flights into the U.S.: a battery fire in the passenger cabin can be quickly spotted and contained, but one in the baggage hold could do significantly more damage.
The US which already bans laptops on direct flights to the US from several Muslim-majority countries but may extend the ban to all aircraft coming into or out of the company. The move is sad to be for security reasons but it could result in planes crashing because of fires in the cargo part of the aircraft caused by fires or explosions of lithium batteries.

On June 1 all three main US stock indices reach record highs

News that Trump had withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords did not keep all three main U.S. stock indices from setting new highs the first trading day in June.

A batch of positive economic data showing that the U.S. economy was picking up speed offset any concerns there might have been Trump's rejection of the accords. Even some of the big oil companies such as Exxon were in favor of the U.S. remaining in the accords. The ADP private sector employment report showed that the U.S. economy added 253,000 jobs in May, whereas estimates only averaged 185,000 in a poll of economists. The report could point to a a strong government payrolls report on Friday that will include hiring both by the government and private sectors. This could lead to expectations of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in two weeks time. Another report showed factory activity was up in May after it had been slowing down two months in a row.
Paul Springmeyer an investment managing director at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis said: "More than anything it is employment data driven, it was such a resounding uptick over expectations. It bodes well for the Fed; certainly the numbers are very, very high in terms of the likelihood of that (hike) coming through for June." Forecasts from Fed officials point to a median of two more interest hikes until the end of 2017. Thomson Reuters days show traders pricing in an 88.9 percent chance of an interest hike of a quarter-percentage-point at the Fed meeting on June 13-14. A JP Morgan spokesperson said of the jobs report "It was a very good, positive surprise. We've had a few negative surprises, so this is definitely against the current.Overall, it says the economy is still moving along nicely." On Friday morning at 8:30 the U.S. government will release its non-farm payrolls report. J.J. Kinahan chief strategist at TD Ameritrade said of the report: "What the ADP number does is it raises expectations that the jobs report can come at the top end of the range and maybe above the estimate," The good news appeared to offset the bad news that jobless claims were up from the forecast of 239,000, coming in at 248,000.
The Fed is not likely to decide not to up rates according to Jason Thomas, chief economist at AssetMark: "They have been telegraphing their moves clearly. They want to raise rates. My sense is that they see themselves in smooth waters right now, but those waters are shallow and there are rocks beneath. Unemployment is really low, but labor force participation has barely budged." CME Group' FedWatch tool put market expectations at a very high 95.8 percent.
Volatility in the market was low last month going below 10 six times during the month. These levels have not been seen in more than 20 years. Volatility is a gauge of fear in the market. In spite of all the media worries about Trump's behavior it does not seem to be reflected in investors exhibiting any fear in the way they are operating on the stock market. Some analysts are saying that there are good reasons for worrying about what Trump is doing as in a recent article in Bloomberg.
Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Privat Bank expressed concern: "Investors worry that the relationship between decreasing volatility and increased purchases could morph from a virtuous cycle to self-fulfilling feedback frenzy, leading to a vicious, volatility induced sell-off. The extent of a potential downdraft depends on how large the risk-parity investment community is. It's widely believed that the mass of money managed under a risk-parity mandate remains small, although it's a trend worth watching."
The Dow Jones Industrial average ended up 135.53 points, at 21144.18 a gain of .65 percent. The S & P 500 Index rose .76 percentage points to 2430.06 or 18.26 points. Finally, the third index the Nasdaq composite closed at 6246.83 or .78 percent gaining 48.31 points. In spite of the dismal performance of Trump the investment community so far appears to accept his policies as business friendly and discount his erratic behavior.