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Showing posts from September, 2015

US could keep up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2016

Although the Afghan war was supposedly "ended" as far as foreign combat troops were concerned a couple of years ago, almost 10,000 US troops still remain. + Add Image After recent deliberations among officials, the present plans include options that would leave thousands of troops in Afghanistan through 2016. Plans for successive withdrawals may be scrapped in the face of a continuing Taliban threat and with the Islamic State also trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. The Taliban claims there will be no peace agreement as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. Proponents of keeping more U.S. troops in place argue that the Afghan forces are simply not capable of beating back the Taliban on their own. The Taliban have gained ground over this year in several areas. The U.S. has already been in Afghanistan for 14 years. The top international commander in Afghanistan, US General John Campbell, has sent five separate recommendations to both the Pentagon and NATO each wi…

Rival Libyan governments in no hurry to sign on to Libyan Political Agreement

UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon, after completing dialogue negotiations, prepared a final text of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) which was to be considered by the two rival governments this last week. + Add Image However, the Eid holiday was on Thursday the 24th. The House of Representatives(HoR) internationally-recognized government in Tobruk apparently has not even met to consider the amended draft. Earlier they had rejected amendments Leon had made to satisfy concerns of the Tripoli-based rival General National Congress(GNC) government. Leon wanted the negotiators to meet shortly after the end of Eid to choose members for the new Government of National Accord. He hoped to start talks Monday but that appears unlikely in that the HoR will send representatives only on Tuesday at the earliest. The Libya Herald says the HoR will not debate the new LPA draft until Monday or Tuesday next week at the earliest according to HoR member Saad Al-Hashmi. Al-Hashmi said the discussion could…

US-trained Syrian rebels hand over weapons to Al Qaeda group

Around 70 new graduates of the U.S. training program that produces trained rebels to fight the Islamic State in Syria handed over their weapons and equipment to the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage. + Add Image 1 of 2  The report comes from the Telegraph. The paper claims a number of sources reported that the fighters associated with Divison 30, the division of "moderate rebels," had surrendered and handed over weapons and equipment to Al-Nusra Front. A Twitter boast of the surrender came from Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, who claimed to be from the Nusra Front:"A strong slap for America... the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage. They handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups." Another purported Al-Nusra member, Abu al-Maqdisi, claimed the Division 30 commander, Anas Ibrahim Obaid, said he had tricked the co…

Haftar prevents HoR prime minister from leaving Libya once again

For the second time within a week, the Prime Minister of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) Libyan government, Abdullah al-Thinni, has been forcibly prevented from flying out of the country. + Add Image Last Tuesday, militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, stopped Al-Thinni from boarding a plane that was to take him to an oil conference in Malta. The militia actually attempted to arrrest Al-Thinni but the airport guards were able to whisk him away to safety. While the reasons for the move are not certain, reports indicate Haftar was angered by Al-Thinni's dismissal of the deputy of security affairs, Al-Mihdi Allabad. Allabad had excellent relations with Haftar's militias. According to the Libya Observer, a source favourable to the General National Congress(GNC) Tripoli-based government, Al-Thinni was boarding a plane at Labrag Airport in eastern Libya today when Haftar militia, who control the airport, stopped the plane and dragged al-Thinni out. Al-Thinni w…

Tobruk government rejects UN criticism of Haftar's "Operation Doom"

The internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government based in Tobruk has reacted angrily to a recent press release of the UN Support Mission in Libya's(UNSMIL) condemning the recently announced military operation in Benghazi. + Add Image The HoR completely rejected the accusation by the UNSMIL and special envoy, Bernardino Leon, that the military action launched by commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar named Operation Doom, was a deliberate attempt to derail the dialogue process taking place in Skhirat Morocco. The UN has repeatedly asked that both sides refrain from any military action against each other during the talks. The UN press release claimed that the operation was a deliberate attempt to undermine the peace process. Khalifa Haftar, has been carrying out Operation Dignity since May 2014 designed to rid Libya of Islamists. However, Haftar considers all Islamists terrorists and this includes supporters of the General National Congress(GNC) …

United Nations condemns Haftar's "Operation Doom" in Benghazi

Yesterday the commander of the Libyan National Army of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government in Tobruk launched new attacks he calls "Operation Doom" against areas of Benghazi still held by Islamists. + Add Image As described in the pro-HoR Libya Herald the operation was announced early on Saturday by General Haftar in the presence of all the top military brass in the Benghazi area. Haftar has been attempting to retake all of Benghazi for almost a year. Much of the city is in ruins from bombing and shelling. Some parts of the city are still controlled by the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries but some of that group have joined the Islamic State that also now is in parts of the city according to some reports. The Libya Observer which supports the Tripoli-based General National Congress(GNC) government also reported on the new operation, noting it is happening more than a year after he launched Operation Dignity in May of 2014 to contro…

US and Russian Defence ministers in talks on Syria

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U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu held talks on Syria. The Pentagon said the two discussed areas where U.S. and Russian "perspective overlap and areas of divergence." + Add Image Russia together with Iran have long been allies of the Assad government in Syria and have provided considerable material help. The Lebanese group Hezbollah has also aided the regime by supplying many fighters. The extent of Russian forces on the ground is not clear, although they no doubt have special forces and trainers to teach the Syrians how to use equipment. The Russians have long had a naval base in the port of Tartarus in Syria. Both the U.S. and Russians are anxious to prevent any possible conflict between U.S. and Russian forces. The U.S. and its allies have carried out an extensive bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria without ever seeking permission from the Syrian government to do so. Assad has tolerated these incursions. No doubt …

US, UK and many other EU countries voice support for Libyan dialogue

France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the United States all welcomed the ongoing UN-sponsored dialogue in Skhirat, Morocco and voiced their support for the process and UN Special Representative for Libya Bernardino Leon. + Add Image 1 of 2  The group also urged all the parties to participate constructively in the talks to reach a comprehensive agreement. This would include a conclusive decision on candidates for the Government of National Accord(GNA) by Sunday September 20. This would allow the agreement to be endorsed by all the parties by the end of September and the GNA to take over by the 21st of October, when the mandate of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives Government (HoR) runs out. The group also condemned any kind of violence or intimidation against any party involved in the dialogue process. Those aiming to derail the process they claimed will be held accountable. There is no mention of specific names of those that were supposed to be subject to EU…

Commander of IS forces in Syria once worked under US-backed Free Syrian Army

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While the U.S. emphasizes that it does not support radical jihadists in Syria, it actually supported a group of Chechen jihadists led by Omar al-Shishani or Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, who now commands the Islamic State forces in Syria. + Add Image Abu Omar al-Shishani was first trained by the U.S. as part of an elite Georgian army unit and served until 2006. He was involved in the Georgian conflict with Russia. Al-Shishani later moved from Georgia and ended up in Syria with a group of Chechen jihadists fighting against the Assad regime. In August 2013 Al Shishani and his jihadist group were instrumental in capturing the Menagh air base that had resisted rebel attacks for 10 months previously:This week, the jihadist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, or the Army of Emigrants and Supporters, led by a fighter from the Caucasus known as Abu Omar al-Shesheni — the Chechen — worked with Free Syrian Army battalions to take the Menagh air base in Aleppo Province after 10 months of…

US general claims less than half dozen US-trained rebels remain in Syria

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Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of CENTCOM and the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said there were only four or five Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military still in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. + Add Image General Austin also said the U.S. would not reach its goal of training 5,000 Syrian fighters in the near future. In effect, Austin's testimony before the U.S. Armed Services Committee showed that the Defense Department $500 million program was going nowhere. Republican Senator John McCain, chair of the committee, wanted to know why the U.S. had not set up a no-fly zone over Syria to help protect civilians from being bombed by the Assad government. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said that despite all the talk from US military officials about how well the war was progressing there seemed no recognition of the "practical realities". Intelligence agents have complained that their negative reports on the war against the Islamic State are b…

Al Qaeda in Yemen retain territory through local alliances and providing basic services

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) has been able to expand its area of control while joining the fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. + Add Image AQAP is often able to ally itself with local Sunni tribes who appreciate the groups' help in their battle against the Houthi rebels. Rather than ruling just on its own, the group often serves as a power broker, establishing local ruling bodies composed of those willing to cooperate with the group. AQAP has become a major power broker through methods described in a recent Al Jazeera article. AQAP and local allies control virtually the whole of the huge desert province of Hadramawt, including the port capital of Mukalla. The port was seized back in Mid-April as described in a VICE news article:On the 2nd of April 2015, AQAP fighters stormed the coastal city of Al Mukalla and captured it on the 16th of April after the two week Battle of Al Mukalla. They seized government buildings and reportedly used trucks to cart off more than $1…

Top ranked 200 world universities

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The QS World University Rankings are issued annually by the Quacquarelli Symonds(QS) company. From 2004 to 2009 QS collaborated with Times Higher Education in issuing rankings but since then have issued separate rankings. + Add Image QS chose to follow the methodology existing at the time of the split but THE adopted new methodology for its own versions. The QS rankings have been criticized for being commercialized and giving weight to some subjective indicators. The rankings for 200 universities from 57 different countries can be found here. The top 10 universities are dominated by large US universities although the UK and Switzerland also are represented. From first to tenth the top 10 universities are: Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) in the US; Harvard (US); Cambridge in the UK; Stanford (US); Caltech (US); Oxford (UK); UC London (UK); Imperial College (UK); Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Switzerland; University of Chicago (US). Singapore boasts the National Un…

Libyan army commander Haftar prevents prime minister from flying to Malta

The Prime Minister of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government, Abdullah al-Thinni, was prevented by security officials from departing on a flight to Malta for a meeting. + Add Image The pro-HoR Libya Herald caims sources at the Labraq international airport near Bayda told them that the security personnel were acting on orders from top military figures. The Herald sees this as a reference to General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army — the military forces of the HoR, al-Thinni's own government. An official in Malta confirmed al-Thinni was to fly there for a meeting. The Herald notes al-Thinni had previously been prevented from boarding a plane. In July last year he was prevented from flying out of Mitiga airport but this is in the area controlled by the rival Tripoli-based GNC government. The militia there are hostile to al-Thinni and his government. This is hardly comparable since in this case he is being prevented from flying by …

No peace talks in Yemen as Hadi government refuses to attend

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Exiled Yemen president Mansour Hadi and his government announced on Sunday that they will not participate in planned UN peace talks. Hadi insists that Houthis must withdraw from any areas they seized during their offensive, including the capital Sanaa.
+ Add Image This and other demands are part of a UN resolution passed in April. Hadi has always taken the view that any peace talks should simply discuss ways of implementing the UN demands. Peace talks for Hadi would more appropriately be called "surrender talks." The Houthis have already agreed at least in part with the UN resolution in order to achieve a political solution. UN envoy Ismail Ahmed says the Houthis have accepted most of the UN resolution. Hazsan Zaid, president of the Houthi-allied Haq party, claimed accepting the UN resolution is not the concern but rather the problem is its implementation:The Houthis have accepted to withdraw their forces and hand in the arms they seized, but want to ensure they take place i…