Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two-front attack shrinking territory held by Islamic State in Libya

After advancing very close to Sirte and threatening to surround it, forces loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord from the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous operation seem to have paused and may be consolidating their positions.

The apparent pause in the advance from the west happens at the same time as the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Martin Kobler, is visiting Misrata the home of most of the militia involved in the fight against IS. This has prompted the following tweet:"GNA force progress in #sirt stopped after @KoblerSRSG visit to #Misrata Any body explain?" It may be that the forces are just consolidating their gains and also that the IS plants many mines that must be cleared. Perhaps there are discussions about what the next steps may be. The advance had been rather rapid until recently.
An IS senior leader, Khaled Al-Shayeb, was apparently killed in recent clashes with the Misrata militia. His body was identified by IS prisoners held in Tripoli. He had long been regarded as already dead: Al-Shayeb is a prominent IS senior leader in North Africa and the commander of IS militants in Algeria and Tunisia. He is also the main suspect in the attack that killed many European tourists in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, last year.
On the eastern front, the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) appear to be continuing to advance.They have now cleared Bin Jawad completely . They have moved on to another town to the west according to the Libya Oberver. All Al-Hassi, spokesperson for the OFG said that the group took control of the town of A-Naufileya, which lies just 120 kilometers from the IS stronghold of Sirte. He claimed that IS has retreated to Harawa which is only 50 kilometers, about 30 miles from Sirte. He said that there were no casualties when the town was taken. Engineering units are busy defusing mines. The Libyan Express also reports on the advance.
Ibrahim Jodhran, who at least until recently headed the PFG, is a supporter of the GNA and an opponent of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). He was fired by the HoR but the firing never seems to have taken effect. There is a recent tweet that claims he has been replaced by the GNA, but apparently he does not object: "#GNA appoints Ali Alahrash head of #OFG (Oil field guard) #Libya " This could be very bad news for Haftar since it will place the PFG and the territory they guard firmly under the control of the GNA, which Haftar does not recognize. Haftar would like to ensure he has control of the three main ports in the oil crescent that the PFG guard.
Haftar is busy with a council of war. One of the topics is plans for liberating Sirte. He has been advancing on the IS for weeks and has yet to have a single engagement with them. His latest actions in his Operation Volcano against the Shura Council of Derna, is to bomb headquarters of Korean and Turkish companies in the city. The Shura Council of Derna Jihadists were instrumental in clearing out IS from Derna. However, the Council includes Ansar al-Sharia branded as a terrorist group and responsible for the attack on the US embassy. Haftar chooses to pick his terrorists to attack on strategic grounds but all his enemies are branded as Islamic terrorists. Westerners laughed when Gadaffi said that. If Haftar does not act soon, those loyal to the GNA may have already captured the IS stronghold of Sirte.

Salim Alaradi of dual Canadian Libyan citizenship cleared of all charges by UAE court

Salim Alaradi, a Canadian-Libyan citizen, has been held in jail in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 642 days. Alaradi was arrested with a number of other business people connected to Libya.

He has finally been acquitted on charges of providing financial support for and cooperating with Libya-based groups Libya Dawn and the February 17 Brigade. Canadian officials welcomed his acquittal and his family celebrated the news. However, he was taken back to jail and still is not free. He needs medical attention as well.
He was cleared along with three other co-accused. His lawyer, Paul Champ, said the four cheered and hugged each other after the verdict. All four were detained again by UAE officials. It is not clear why, but it may be for administrative reasons. Canadian officials were present to bring Alaradi, the father of five children, back to Canada and were confused by the arrests.
Global Affairs Canada claimed: "The Government of Canada raised Mr. Alaradi's case at the highest levels and called for his release and return to Canada." Alaradi and the three other accused had presented evidence of torture at other hearings. Whereas, Global Affairs previously claimed to have taken the allegations of torture "extremely seriously" they are remaining relatively quite of the issue but said: "We are moved by the resiliency shown by Mr. Alaradi's family, in particular, their courage and conviction." The family has been very active in lobbying the Canadian government to get Albaradi released. There are several You Tube videos made by the family. One is appended.
Marwa, the teenage daughter, said over the phone to Vice News:'It's has been the toughest two years, almost two years, of our life. It's the best news ever, it was amazing. But unfortunately my father was returned back to prison We expected my father to leave the courtroom with Canadian officials as a free man.I don't think he should be in prison because he is innocent. It's has been the toughest two years, almost two years, of our life."Originally Albaradi was faced with terrorism charges but those were dropped without any explanation in March to be replaced by the present charges.
Champ said he expected Alaradi's mental health would improve more slowly than his physical health:"It will take time for him to be the Salim he used to be, but we'll make sure he returns to the old Salim by taking care of his health." Immediately on release, Alaradi is to fly to Istanbul for "urgent" medical treatment. He will be reunited with his family there.
An American-Libyan and his son were also acquitted, Kamal Eldarat 59 and his Mohammed 34. They were both longtime residents of the UAE, moving there in 1997. The family was overjoyed at the verdict but said the trail should never have taken place. She said it could still take days or even weeks before they were released because of procedural issues.

Islamic State in Libya now attacked from the east by Petroleum Facilities Guard

Salem Jedran, mayor of the town of Ajdabiya, says troops of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) are advancing toward the town of Bin Jawad, which has been held by the Islamic State (IS) since early January.

Jedran claimed that clashes are underway on eastern outskirts of the town. Bin Jawad is about 160 kilometers or 99 miles from the city of Sirte the main stronghold of IS in Libya. A recent tweet includes photos allegedly of the PFG near Bin Jawad: "#Libya : Pro-PFG account released pics of #PFG near Bin Jawad. Localization could be 19km from Bin Jawad - FB ".
The Libya Herald reports that two units of the central region (PFG) from Ajdabiya had moved within a few kilometers of Nufliva and Bin Jawad. A source close to the head of the guards, Ibrahim Jadhran, told the paper that it was "amost" in control of Bin Jawad and very near Nufliya. Jadhran is an opponent of Haftar. Reportedly he has been fired and replaced by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) of PM Al-Thinni. The firing appears not to have taken effect. Jadhran supports the GNA unlike Haftar. The area is heavily mined and two PFG fighters are already reported wounded and sent to Ras Lanuf for medical treatment. The two towns being attacked are thirty kilometers apart and are being attacked by separate units. Nufliya is being approached through desert tracks rather than the road.
The Islamic State is now facing attacks from two fronts. Reports say that the Misrata militia are just 30 kilometers from the city center. The Libyan Gazette reports that forces loyal to the Government of National Accord are now surrounding Sirte. Another report claims that the forces have taken control of the Khaleej power steam plant, even closer to Sirte at 20 kilometers. It had been overtaken by IS just a year ago. The Facebook page of the western operations room Bunyan Marsous (BMOR) claimed that they are working together with the PFG. A PFG source said he did not know but that the Misratan troops would not be allowed to move east to Nufliva and Bin Jawad. No doubt Haftar will be perturbed by what is happening. The PFG supports more power for the eastern area Cyrenaica.
In spite of the fact the Islamic State will have huge problems defending two fronts, Haftar has not yet attacked from the east even though he announced he was marching to liberate Sirte weeks ago. He recently had a council of war with his eastern commanders. His western Zintan area Chief of Staff, Abdul Razak Al-Nazhuri, was not present. He recently threatened to "liberate" Tripoli. The GNA PM Serraj and the UN's Martin Kobler do not seem to have noticed. The meeting discussed the army buildup for the advance towards Sirte. Apparently the army is gathered south of the town of Ajdabiya and the group talked of the logistics of a westward advance. They also talked about security in Benghazi after all the militants had been cleared out. Haftar may find that his enemies within the PFG and in the Misrata militia have already defeated IS before he gets started. He has been busy with Operation Volcano attacking Shura Council jihadists who were instrumental in clearing the Islamic State out of the city.

GNA-loyal forces aiming to surround Islamic State stronghold of Sirte in Libya

Forces of the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure), mostly militia from Misrata, say they are aiming to encircle Sirte the last large city stronghold of the Islamic State in Libya.

The forces, who are loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), have moved within 15 kilometers or 10 miles of the city. Only last summer, Misrata brigades had withdrawn from Sirte as the Islamic State took full control. The rival Libyan National Army in the east, under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, launched a two-pronged march to liberate Sirte, weeks ago. He has not yet engaged with IS at all, even though an attack on their eastern border would make defending Sirte much more difficult. He has even launched Operation Volcano against the Shura Council of Derna, jihadists who were instrumental in driving IS from Derna.
The Misrata militia have had to drive back the Islamic State from areas they recently gained, including the key checkpoint town of Abu Grain captured in an offensive launched while the GNA was establishing a unified command. They have made further gains since then. Haftar refused to join the command, claiming the militias needed to be disbanded first and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives must vote confidence in the GNA. Although there have been many meetings of the HoR to vote, all have been either without a quorum or were disrupted so there was no vote. Haftar and those loyal to him are demanding that section 8 of the Libya Political Agreement, which makes the Presidential Council of the GNA head of the Libyan National Army be deleted. They want Haftar to retain his job in the GNA.
Mohamed al-Gasi, military spokesperson, said that government forces had advanced along the road to Sirte as far as the steam hydro plant only about 15 kilometers from the center of Sirte. They were seeking full control of the plant as well as a road that runs south to Waddan. Al-Gasi said: "The next step is to encircle Sirte, and then we will ask the residents to try to leave. We don't want to enter now because of the residents. But if it becomes a battlefield we can enter within hours."
The Misrata brigades have suffered many losses during the offensive, with the Islamic State using suicide bombing attacks. A single truck bombing killed 32 people last week. Since the beginning of May 75 fighters have been killed and more than 350 injured. Hospitals have been running out of supplies. Some wounded have been flown out of the country to be treated in Italy. Al-Gasri said many IS fighters had been killed as well. UK special forces working with the Misrata militia are said to have blown up suicide trucks. The government forces' engineers are still de-mining areas where IS had retreated.
Al-Gasri said that the withdrawal of last year would not be repeated:"This time it's different because there is an internationally recognized government that has pledged to support the army to fight Daesh (Islamic State)." While there a few special forces from various countries, there has as yet been no weapons or ammunition provided, and there appear to be no immediate plan for foreign troops to be involved in combat operations. Some in the Misrata militia complain they are not getting enough support from the central government and its unified command. The heading Libyan National Army (LNA) on the appended video is not accurate. The LNA are the forces of Khalifa Haftar associated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). They have not yet even engaged with the Islamic State in the offensive against Sirte.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Head of State Council of GNA allegedly target of attack at Abu Grain

The State Council of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) condemned an alleged attack on its president Abdulrahman Sewehli while visiting Abu Grain, south of Misrata. Abu Grain was recently recaptured from the Islamic State (IS).

Sewehli went there to be briefed on operations against IS. In a statement the State Council demanded that those involved should be punished. The Council said those responsible were not part of the anti-IS operation.
As often happens in Libya, there are conflicting reports about what actually happened. One report claims that Sewehli's convoy was met by the one of the Misratan militias involved in the offensive against IS, Operation Bunyan Marsous, the Aasar militia. The commander, Ibrahim Rafaida, verbally attacked Sewehli over the lack of support that the militia were being given by authorities in Tripoli. During a heated argument Rafaida was said to have slapped Sewehli. A fight developed between the Aasar group and Sewehli's body guards. Sewehil was accompanied by Brigadier Bashir Al-Gadi of the operations room. Sewehli and Gadi were said to be overpowered and beaten. One of the bodyguards was said to be shot in the leg and one of the vehicles in the convoy destroyed. However, they managed to escape with Sewehli being helicoptred out to Misrata and then back to Tripoli.
Rafaida is described as an Islamist militant, sympathetic to Ansar Al-Sharia, as well as the Shura Council of Benghazi. He is said to have been formerly close to Sewehli. In spite of these reports and with the Council launching an investigation into the incident, Seweli's own media office denies the incident even happened. It has said instead that there were clashes with the IS as he arrived in which one vehicle was destroyed, but no one hurt. Why the narratives are so different is hard to fathom. The IS are supposed to have been driven from the area several days ago.
Sewehli is strongly opposed to Haftar and worries about former supporters of Gadaffi being part of the new GNA, although some members of the GNA, such as the defense minister, are part of the Libyan National Army that Haftar commands. However, he is an opponent of Haftar. Sewehli's son was recently kidnapped.
Sewehli has many enemies but mostly among opponents of Islamists and supporters of Haftar's Operation Dignity. Back on March 3 of 2014, he was shot while a member of parliament but by members of the Zintan brigades loyal to Haftar. CNN reported that at least two members of Libya's General National Congress were shot and wounded after protesters stormed its headquarters:One of the congressmen, Abdul Rahman Sweihli, was shot in the leg after protesters opened fire on him inside the building. As his security detail rushed him out, gunmen opened fire on their cars as they were trying to flee, his son Bashir Sweihli told CNN.
Another son, Ahmed, tweeted recently: "Swehli shot in foot-2yrs ago by Zintan militia storming GNC Tripoli.Just reminding @libyaherald @HESHAM_LIBYA_FR"

US bill on Puerto Rico bailout described as "colonial-style takeover"

A U.S. House committee has just approved the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act last Wednesday. The legislation gives control of the country's financial institutions to a board whose members are appointed by the U.S. government.

Activists and journalists warn that the bill would constitute a "colonial-style takeover" of Puerto Rico by the U.S. amid the country's crippling debt crisis. Journalist Juan Gonzalez explained: “The bill has provoked a furor among many island residents because it imposes a seven-member oversight board with dictatorial powers that harken back to colonial days.”
At one time, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony and later a U.S. colony. There is disagreement in Puerto Rico about the relationship the country should have with the U.S. The two main parties differ — the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) wants the country to maintain the island's status with the US as a commonwealth while the New Progressive Party (PNP) wants Puerto Rico to be a state. The Puerto Rico Independence Party ( PIP) wants a separate country independent of the US. The PIP gets only about 5 percent of the vote while the other two get about 47 percent each. As long ago as 1914 Puerto Rico tried to gain independence from the US: In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of independence from the United States, but this was rejected by the U.S. Congress as "unconstitutional," and in violation of the 1900 Foraker Act.[59]
Puerto Rican activists condemn the present bill because it is meant just to protect bondholders, while "paving the way for massive cuts in public services." Gonzalez called the bill a poison pill that will involve a virtual takeover of the Puerto Rican economy. The board will have control of a five-year fiscal plan for Puerto Rico and would likely impose harsh cuts on social service spending and government pension funds. The bill would force the Puerto Rico government to reduce its minimum wage to $4.25 per hour for those under 25. The board would have to approve any new laws that are passed in Puerto Rico, and would also control capital investments in the country. As Gonzalez summed it up: “So you’re in essence creating … a control board that will be of nonresidents of the island running the financial affairs of Puerto Rico for the next five, possibly 10 years.” The bill has strong bi-partisan support, including from Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. However, Bernie Sanders has condemned the bill as a gift for Wall Street. In a speech in the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Sanders said:“It is unacceptable to me for the United States government to treat Puerto Rico like a colony during a time when its people are facing the worst fiscal and economic crisis in its history. In my view, the people of Puerto Rico must be empowered to determine their own destiny. When you establish a federal control board that says these unelected officials have the power to make major, major decisions impacting millions of people and they are accountable to nobody … that’s wrong.”
The bill is meant as a solution to Puerto Rico's long-standing debt crisis. The $72 billion in debt is unpayable according to the governor and has to be restructured. Much of the country's debt is owned by hedge funds. Sanders spoke out against what he called the "vulture capitalists" who wanted to impose crippling austerity measures on Puerto Rico that would hurt most the poor and working class. He said the hedge funds could afford to take a "massive haircut." Sanders said: “In the midst of this massive human crisis, it is morally unacceptable that billionaire hedge-fund managers have been calling for even more austerity in Puerto Rico. Austerity will not solve this crisis. As we all know from throughout the world, austerity will cause more suffering for working people and make the rich richer. We must vigorously oppose all efforts at austerity.It is unacceptable to me that vulture funds on Wall Street are demanding that Puerto Rico fire teachers, close schools, cut pensions and abolish the minimum wage so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and the misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico. We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen.”The House will vote on the bill in June.
In contrast to Sanders, Clinton expressed support for the bill in spite of some reservations:“While I have serious concerns about several provisions in this bill, including the creation of an oversight board that would exert substantial control over Puerto Rico, I believe that we must move forward with this legislation,Otherwise, without any means of addressing this crisis, too many Puerto Ricans will continue to suffer. As this bill moves forward, I will work to ensure that concerns about the oversight board are addressed and any such entity includes members that will act in the best interest of Puerto Ricans — protecting their health, their pensions and their well-being.We can no longer sit idly by while hedge funds seek to maximize their profits at the island's expense.".
Sanders wants Congress to allow Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy on its debt. The reworked version of the bill has the backing of the White House, Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic House Minority leader Nacy Pelosi, and progressive and conservative wings of both parties.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

US air travelers can expect long lines this weekend

Peter Neffenger, top administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that passengers will likely continue to experience longer than normal wait times over the summer.

Neffenger said the agency was promoting screeners from part time to full time, and reassigning hundreds of behavioral detection officers to help on security lines. Millions of Americans are expected to be traveling this Memorial Day weekend. Neffenger claimed that longer lines were produced by passenger numbers greater than forecast, staffing shortages, and changes to a program that had allowed people not signed up for background checks to use expedited security lines.
After federal auditors managed to take fake bombs and weapons past security screeners, the TSA tightened security procedures, adding to wait times. To help alleviate the situation, the Congress authorized the agency to hire 768 additional screeners. The number of passengers is estimated to be about 740 million this year, almost a million more than the 643 million last year. While the number of passengers has increased considerably, the number of screeners has declined from 47,147 in 2013 to 44,942 this year. Mr. Neffenger just this week replaced the agency’s top security official, Kelly Hogan who was the recipient of rather lavish bonuses. He also added a new group of administrators at Chicago's O'Hare International airport which has been plagued by long lines. As Mother Jones reports:On an uncharacteristically chilly Saturday earlier this month, travelers found themselves standing in line for more than two hours to get through security Chicago's O'Hare airport. A staggering 450 American Airlines travelers missed their flights. Dozens spent the night in the airport, and the incident brought national attention to increasingly long wait times.
Some critics claim the TSA is understaffed because it is busy providing security for presidential candidates during presidential primaries, but TSA officials deny this. Others blame lack of funding for the TSA. This does appear to be a factor. From 2012 to 2013 the TSA budget declined from $7.8 billion to $7.2 billion. The staffing budget declined every year from from 2012 to 2015.
Mr Neffenger urged travelers to enroll in TSA Precheck, an expedited screening process allowing passengers to keep on their shoes and to keep computers in their bags. Fewer people than expected have enrolled in the program. The TSA Screening Partnership Program allows airports to use screeners hired by private companies. Just 22 of about 450 commercial airports use private screeners, but this includes San Francisco International Airport. Some Republicans in Congress and airport executives want to replace TSA workers by private screeners. Critics of the idea point out that airports with private screeners are also experiencing longer wait times.
Democratic representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi warned against returning to what he called the pre-September 11 privatization model, whose failure to screen hijackers led to the creation of the TSA in the first place. Thompson said: “Congress and T.S.A. must resist Band-Aid fixes to complicated and well-understood aviation security challenges. Patching and plugging holes are not answers.”
The wait times are in many cases becoming so long that people miss their flights. American Airlines Group Inc. claims that it has had more than 70,000 customers and 40,000 checked bags miss flights because of delays in airport screening.One delay at O'Hare was so bad that American Airlines rolled out cots for stranded travelers.

Dr. Henry Heimlich 96 saves choking 87-year-old with Heimlich Maneuver

Dr. Henry Heimlich, who first described the Heimlich Maneuver in June of 1974, was said to have used the procedure for the first time on a resident of the nursing home where he stays.

Perry Gaines, maitre d' for the Deupree House dining room, ran toward the table when told that a resident was choking. He is trained in the procedure, now usually called abdominal thrusting, and used it at least twice in the two years he has worked at the Hyde Park senior living home. However, when he got to the table Dr Heimlich was behind the woman ready to perform the procedure, so Gaines let him go ahead. It worked. Typically, Gates would have done it but he deferred to Dr. Heinrich. The room, filled with 125 diners, recovered quickly and the meal went on. Patty Ris, 87, who choked on some hamburger, was sitting beside Dr. Heimlich. She said that God must have seated her beside him. Heinrich swims and exercises regularly.
Heimlich told the Cincinatti Enguirer that this was the first time he had actually used the maneuver on a choking person although he had demonstrated it many times. Heimlich has other medical inventions to his credit including the Micro Trach portable oxygen system and the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve or "flutter valve" which drains blood and air from the chest cavity. Heimlich's career has not been without controversy with some critics accusing Heimlich of fraud, including one of his own four children, Peter. Peter Heimlich is a former Cincinnati elected official but became a conservative Christian talk-show host. His website deals with what he describes as his father's "wide ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud." This appears to be a bit of a family feud. The Heimlich maneuver is not a fraud. However, Heimlich does appear to have promoted his technique for areas that it was not suitable and also promoted research on alternatives that were not objective.
Heimlich promoted the technique to be used to rescue people from drowning but by 2005 rescue guidelines for the American Heart Association did not cite Heimlich's work and even warned against using abdominal thrusting during a drowning rescue as unproven and even dangerous. The Association cited a link between its use and vomiting that could lead to death. In 2003 Heimlich's colleague, Dr. Edward Patrick, issued a press release claiming that he was an un-credited co-developer of the Heimlich maneuver saying:"'I would like to get proper credit for what I've done...but I'm not hyper about it.' Perhaps this release explains why the procedure is now called abdominal thrusting. It would seem too that Dr. Heimlich's memory may be failing a bit as this was the second time at least that he used the technique on a choking person: " He told the BBC in 2003 that he had used it for the first time on a man choking in a restaurant when he was about 80 years old."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

GNA forces mostly from Misrata make further gains against IS and approach Sirte

Misrata militia, part of the forces of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) made more gains against the forces of the Islamic State as they retreat towards their stronghold, Sirte.

General Mohammad al-Ghusri, spokesperson for Operation Strong, as it has been named, claims that Al-Baghla checkpoint has been secured, which is 60 kilometers from Sirte. The Libyan Gazette must be referring to whole area, not the city itself in its claim:
The Libyan army made significant gains against ISIS forces on Wednesday after troops fighting in the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) military campaign against ISIS, called Operation Strong Foundation, killed 100 ISIS fighters in Sirte.Islamic State administrative offices in Sirte are reportedly shut down.
Al-Ghasr reported that the militia were advancing rapidly toward Sirte after they had captured 12 IS fighters subsequent to securing Al-Baghla. Al-Ghasri claimed: “We are making remarkable advances against the radical groups of ISIS and we are eyeing advance toward Sirte, ISIS’s stronghold.” He said a large number of IS forces had fled the city after they suffered heavy losses in Wednesday's battle. The Libyan air force carried out half a dozen air strikes on key IS positions after Al-Bagla checkpoint was taken causing them to abandon their positions. Eight IED's planted by retreating IS forces were defused. The Libya Observer reports that Operation Strong had also secured the Al-Khamseen checkpoint on the coast road just 50 kilometers from Sirte.
While General Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the House of Representative (HoR) claimed he was launching an offensive against Sirte almost three weeks ago he so far has not engaged with them at all. He is rumored to be attempting to secure the oil ports at present controlled by the Petroleum Forces Guard. Representatives of Hafter's GNA have met with the PFG in Ras Lanuf but there are conflicting reports about what transpired. Ras Lanuf is not far from the eastern border of territory controlled by IS. Instead of moving against Sirte, Haftar has launched Operation Volcano against the Shura Council of Derna a group of jihadists who were instrumental in driving the Islamic State out of the city of Derna.
His commander-in-chief in the west in Zintan, Abdul Razak Al-Nazhuri, far from helping to attack the Islamic State, has threatened to liberate the capital Tripoli from militia who support the GNA and provide security for the city. There is no response from Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary General, or from the PM of the GNA, Faiez Serraj.
In the recent battle against IS, UK special forces reportedly fired a missile at an IS suicide truck loaded with explosives and blew it up. This helped stop the IS from advancing against GNA forces. Mohammed Durat, a troop commander in Misrata said: “My unit works just with English. I have met with them personally and they have destroyed two suicide vehicles that were targeting my fighters.” This report comes just two days after the UK defence secretary Michael Fallon to told the UK House of Commons:“We’ve made it clear that we are not planning any kind of combat role either for our troops or for the RAF in Libya. That is not part of our planning. If we considered further military action against the Daesh [IS], wherever it was – whether in Libya or anywhere else – we would of course come to this house to discuss it first.”
Many critics claim the UK government has been less than candid about its role and plans for participation in an intervention in Libya. US special forces are also reported to be carrying out patrols and observations in Misrata. There are also reports of French, Italian, and Jordanian special forces being in Libya.

Thailand closes off two more islands to tourists to protect coral reefs

Less than 2 weeks ago, the Thai government closed Koh Tachai island indefinitely. On Wednesday, the government chose to ban all tourist activities at three more islands: Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nai.

All three of the islands are just off the coast of the popular tourist destination Phuket. The Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DCMR) claims that natural resources around the islands are fast being depleted as tourism has increased. Regional chief of the DCMR, Watcharin Na Thalang, at a meeting with tour operators and guides on Tuesday, said that coral damage is being caused by the coral bleaching process. He said that although the process occurs naturally, human activity accelerates it. At present, up to 60 speedboats visit the three islands each day with tourists staying up to 3 hours snorkelling and engaging in other activities in the water. Already, tourist facilities are being removed from the islands and shortly shops and restaurants will be vacated.
When Koh Tachai was closed, it was announced it was due to excessive tourism. The shoreline, beaches, and coral reef, will be off-limits to all visitors beginning next October 15. However, all Thai marine national parks are already closed during the monsoon season until October 15, so in effect the island is closed now. Koh Tachai is part of Similan National Park. The closure is part of a resource management plan throughout the Andaman Sea.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University told a Thai newspaper:
"A beach on the island can hold up to 70 people. But sometimes the number of tourists was well over 1,000 on the beach. If it's not closed now, we'll lose Koh Tachai permanently."
Phuket is a southern province in Thailand. The province consists of the main island of Phuket, and 32 smaller islands. The province is off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket island is the largest in Thailand. There is a bridge from the island to the mainland. On Boxing Day of December 2004, a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed up to 250 people in Phuket but that does not include almost 1,000 illegal Burmese workers who were building new beach resorts. By February 2005 many damaged businesses were up and running again. Now almost no tsunami damage is visible except on remote beaches. It is not clear yet how much damage banning tourists from several of the smaller islands will cause to the local tourist industry.

Presidency Council of Libyan unity government decides to recognize eastern released currency

In an incredible reversal of policy, the Presidency Council of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) decided to honor the rival banknotes printed in Russia for the Bayda-based Central Bank of Libya.

The bank notes have different security features, watermarks, and serial numbers from the Tripoli-based Central Bank recognized by and cooperating with the GNA. Both the U.S. and the Presidential Council had come out with statements that characterized the eastern notes as counterfeit. A statement by the U.S. embassy said:
The United States concurs with the Presidency Council’s view that such banknotes would be counterfeit and could undermine confidence in Libya’s currency and the CBL’s ability to manage monetary policy to enable economic recovery.
There is only one Libyan central bank recognized by the UN, the GNA and most of the international community — the one based in Tripoli. If the PC recognizes the bank notes, in effect the GNA is in practice recognizing the Bayda central bank as well. It will be interesting what the U.S. and the UN have to say about this or if they just ignore it, as often happens when the facts are inconvenient.
Before the rejection of the eastern banknotes, GNA Prime Minister Faiez Serraj had given a TV interview in which he suggested the extra eastern money would help solve Libya's serious cash shortage. As a tweet puts it: "This Sarraj interview on #Libya TV blessing eastern CBL's money printing was *before* the US envoy and embassy declared it illegal yesterday." When the US declared the eastern money counterfeit there was a strong reaction on social media as this tweet notes:" #Libyan social media,particularly in the east,awash with Anti-America vitriol over US interference during cash crisis." Perhaps the change of policy is intended to signal a rejection of foreign influence.
The PC explains that it changed its position after a meeting with members of the finance committee of the HoR. It was apparently agreed that the two rival central banks would jointly supervise the issuing of the new notes and that they would be distributed fairly throughout the country. The PC's original objection supposedly was that the arrival of 4 billion more Libyan dinars would destabilize the currency and cause inflation. The PC claimed that there were already 24 billion Libyan dinars in circulation. However, there are not enough dinars in the banks and banks are limiting withdrawals. Libyans distrust the banking system. Many buy hard currencies. There are often long queues at banks of people waiting to withdraw money. The east has complained that the Tripoli-based CB does not distribute a fair share of new currency to the east and claims its new notes are needed to deal with its own constant cash shortage.
Serraj made it one of his priorities to end the currency shortage and liquidity crisis. He now claims the east's banknotes may ease the problem. The HoR has assured the GNA that its own bills will be made available throughout the country. Many fear that having its own currency would cause the east to take a more independent line. It is taking an independent line! The Libya Herald notes:The United States is unlikely to be pleased by the PC’s change of mind. Yesterday it said it was gravely concerned and shared the PC’s earlier view that the new notes would be forgeries that would destabilise the Libyan Dinar. It insisted that the international community only recognised the Central Bank in Tripoli.The eastern notes are not likely to be accepted internationally except perhaps by a few countries. The two competing notes are likely to have wildly different values when exchanged for other currencies such as the US dollar or the Euro.

Rival Libyan central banks print competing currencies

The battle between the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) with PM Faiez Serraj and the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) under PM Abdullah Al-Thinni has resulted in several parallel institutions.

There are two National Oil Companies and two Central Banks. One Central Bank is headquartered in Bayda and the other in Tripoli. The UN and most of the international community recognize only the Tripoli-based bank. There have been meetings between officials of the two national oil companies that has resulted in an agreement to begin oil exports after they had ceased. Although officials of the two banks met in Tunis in an attempt to forge some sort of unification, they appear to be still going their own way with each issuing its own banknotes. Senior diplomats worry that two rival banknotes circulating may undermine the position of the new UN-brokered GNA in Tripoli and cause economic chaos.
The UK company De La Rue has long supplied notes for the Libyan government. It sent 70 million dinars worth about $50 million to the GNA central bank in Tripoli and is delivering another 1 billion dinars now and during Ramadan. The rival bank in Bayda, with governor Ali Salim al-Hibri, has reportedly printed 4 billion dinars worth of banknotes in Russia. According to diplomats, the two currencies will have different serial numbers, security details, and watermarks. They are each signed by their own bank governor as well. Many worry that the two competing, non-interchangeable currencies will boost inflation, which is already high at 14 percent per annum. Diplomats also worry the situation will cause further erosion in support for the UN-backed GNA.
The Bayda eastern central bank holds almost $185 million in gold and silver coins but cannot access it since the Tripoli-based central bank, which has the combination, will not give it to the Bayda bank. The banknote conflict could exacerbate the long lines formed to withdraw cash and make Libyans even more reluctance of Libyans to deposit cash in banks, making the liquidity crisis worse. From 2013 to 2015 bank deposits fell in Libya from 6 billion dinars to 3 billion dinars.
The new eastern notes of 20 and 50 dinars are to be put into circulation on June 1. The Bayda bank announced that the notes are signed by Governor Ali Al-Hibri of the eastern bank rather than Governor Al-Siddiq Al-Kabir of the Tripoli-based bank. A source in the bank said: "The printed notes are amounted to LYD 4 billion and are the same sizes and denominations as the current banknotes." The new notes will circulate with those used at present. The Tripoli-based central bank has made no comment on the Bayda notes as yet. However the United States has already commented on the eastern notes.
The US embassy issued commentary on its Facebook page. The statement notes that the US and 20 other countries at a recent Vienna meeting affirmed that the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) must function under the sole stewardship of the GNA. The Tripoli-based CBL is the only national banking institution under GNA stewardship. The statement went on:The United States has been formally advised by the Libyan Presidency Council (PC) in a letter dated May 23 that Mr. Ali El Hebri, claiming to act as the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, concluded an agreement with an international firm to print and deliver a large quantity of Libyan dinar banknotes. The United States concurs with the Presidency Council’s view that such banknotes would be counterfeit and could undermine confidence in Libya’s currency and the CBL’s ability to manage monetary policy to enable economic recovery.The US statement also warned about attempts to break into secure CBL facilities, meaning the safe with the gold and silver in Bayda. The US the statement claims will work with the GNA to ensure that Libya's wealth is not diverted for any fraudulent of corrupt purposes.
Given that the notes have different security features, water marks and serial numbers, and are also not signed by the recognized bank governor, it is strange to call these bills "counterfeit." Counterfeit bills are intended to look as much as possible as the real bills so they can be used exactly as the real ones. These bills make no attempt to do that. They are replacements for the Tripoli-based bills. The issuing of rival currencies appears to be part of widening divisions between the GNA and HoR making it less likely that the GNA can achieve its goal of unity.

Libyan National Army in Zintan threatens to liberate Tripoli

There are now several reports that the Libya National Army (LNA) has warned it is only 10 kilometers from Tripoli and will soon be liberating Tripoli.

First reports of the warning came in a tweet yesterday: " Khalifa Hafter's top aide Abdul Raziq Nadouri: Our forces are 10km away from Tripoli, liberating it is very soon." Today there is a report in the Libya Herald.
The warning came from Chief of Staff Abdul Razak Al-Nazhuri during the graduation ceremony of 1,600 House of Representatives (HoR) Ministry of the Interior Special Forces in Zintan. He also conducted a tour of forces loyal to the LNA in the region. The recruits are said to have come from all regions of the country.
The LNA and General Haftar, the commander-in-chief of the LNA, have warned a number of times that as part of Operation Dignity they would be liberating Tripoli. The ZIntan brigades burned the parliament buildings after Haftar started his operation in Benghazi as shown on the appended video This happened back in May of 2014. The Zintan brigades were later driven from Tripoli and the airport they were protecting by the Libya Dawn militia associated with the rival Salvation government of the General National Congress (GNC). The fighting completely destroyed the Tripoli International Airport and some planes. The airport is still not open.The Zintan brigades are loyal to Haftar as well as the HoR and consider themselves part of the LNA, even though they're in the west. They reject the GNA.
Nazhuri said that there must be one unified Libya with one Libyan army and police. He said the LNA would not accept ministers in the GNA who he claimed had been supplying terror groups in Benghazi with weapons to fight the LNA. He said that the LNA wanted to send a message that there would be no "Karzai"- the former head of the Afghan government often viewed as a puppet- in Libya. The graduation ceremony was meant as a show of strength of the LNA in the west and meant to make it clear that pro-GNA militia are not in control of all of western Libya.
While Haftar started a move towards Sirte with many troops and vehicles from the south and east almost three weeks ago, he has not yet attacked the Islamic State as promised. He is busy attacking the Shura Council.fighters in Sirte, fighters instrumental in driving IS from Derna, with his Operation Volcano, The Zintan brigades have been idle bystanders. As the Herald reports: Equally, Zintan’s Presidency Council (PC) representative, Mohamed Al-Aswad has been boycotting the PC while the rest of the PC based in the Bu Sitta Naval Base have continued without him. The High State Council, dominated by former members of the GNC and led by Zintan-arch enemy Abdelrahman Swehli have also continued to impose itself while Zintan seems to be side-lined from the new power share-out.The Special Representative of the Secretary-General Martin Kobler, and the PM of the GNA government Faiez Serraj have so far not responded to the threat from the LNA. The main stream media have yet to pay much attention either.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gadaffi's cousin claims thousands from former dictators' brigades serve in Libyan National Army

Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, a cousin of former Libyan dictator Muamar Gadaffi, claims that thousands of former members of Gadaffi's military brigades are now part of Khalifa Haftar's militia or the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Al-Dam made the statement to the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. He also claimed he was holding meetings with what he called "yesterday's enemies" both inside Libya and outside it. He said he was carrying out dialogues with his "leaders and their jailers." Al-Dam said once the Tobruk-base House of Representatives (HoR) endorsed the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), he would pledge allegiance to it. However, there have been many meetings of the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA but all have either lacked a quorum or been disrupted. It is not clear when or even if the HoR will vote confidence in the GNA. Even if the vote finally takes place, it will no doubt pass only if Khalifa Haftar, the commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army, keeps his job. As the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) is now, section 8 gives Haftar's job to the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA.
Al-Dam said he had no relationship with Faiez Serraj, the PM and head of the PC of the GNA. He claimed: “Gaddafi loyalists can never be marginalized by anyone; they are the strongest link in the Libyan scene.”
Al-Dam added that the recent VIenna talks in which many foreign ministers pledged support for the GNA were a farce. Many figures, such as Serraj, he said were used as "decoration" by the summit. He called the EU and U.S. sanctions on the speaker and head of the HoR, Ageelah Salah, as "unacceptable, illegitimate, and ill-mannered." He claimed they are also against democratic rules and ineffective as well.
There appears to be a growing division between those who support the UN-brokered GNA, mostly in the west, and supporters of Haftar and the Tobruk-based HoR, mostly in the east. However, the head of the Petroleum Forces Guard in the east, Ibrahim Jodhran, supports the GNA and is opposed to Haftar. In the west the Zintan brigades support Haftar and are part of the Libyan National Army (LNA). They are very much opposed to the GNA. A recent tweet said: " Khalifa Hafter's top aide Abdul Raziq Nadouri: Our forces are 10km away from Tripoli, liberating it is very soon." However, reports on what is happening in Libya are often contested. Recently it was reported that Haftar ordered the GNA defense minister Mahdi Al-Barghathi to return back to Benghazi, but a recent article in the Libya Herald reports that a Haftar spokesperson says this was not correct. The presence of many Gadaffi loyalists in Haftar's militia will serve to exacerbate the growing division between supporters of the GNA and those supporting the HoR and Haftar.

GNA-loyal forces consolidate hold on territory regained from the Islamic State near Misrata

The militia from Misrata who recently retook territory captured by the Islamic State(IS) east and south of Misrata appear to be consolidating their position before advancing further towards the city of Sirte the IS stronghold.

According to the Libya Observer:
 The media bureau of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure) military operation said military forces and backup came from western and southern Libya by sea, air and land to join the operation’s forces, who are already positioned in southern and western Sirte.The bureau added that a certain calm prevailed at the front lines as the Misrata militia were consolidating their positions and the military engineering unit was defusing deadly mines.
Air force planes targeted IS positions in the town of Al-Baghia to pave the way for entering it. IS forces are still in control of parts of the road between the city of Al-Jufra and Abu-Grein and are planting land mines to stop the advance of the Solid Structure forces to Al-Baghia checkpoint. There has been a new development from the east where Haftar's troops are making no attempt to engage with the Islamic State, even though he said he was advancing to liberate Sirte weeks ago. The Observer reports: On Sunday, The commander of the Ajdabia border department, Bashir Abu Thefera, said that they will form a new operations chamber, in cooperation with Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos operations chamber, to lead the battle against IS from the eastern region, pointing out that it will cover the districts and towns from Ajdabia to Sirte.An attack from the east could cause great difficulties for IS it likely does not have enough forces to protect two fronts at once.
The international community has been promising to provide support including weapons and ammunition for the fight against the Islamic State but it has been slow in coming. The GNA first has to make a request for an exemption from the arms embargo. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's ambassador to the UN, however, urged that the GNA not fund what he called "the militias," an apparent reference to the Misrata brigades who appear to be the only forces actively fighting the Islamic State. No doubt Dabbashi is supporting Haftar and the HoR on this matter.
He tweeted: "Sirte battle is not a militia war, it's a regular army's one. Attempting to prevent the army from liberating Sirte is kind of crazy." The problem is that Haftar is not fighting the Islamic State but concentrating on his Operation Volcano "liberating" Derna from the Shura Council jihadists who were instrumental in driving the Islamic State from Derna. Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) does not recognize the GNA and regards many of its members as its enemies. What would be crazy would be for the GNA to arm the LNA at this point.

Octopuses multiply while fisheries collapse, and coral reefs bleach

As many coral reefs are withering causing a loss of habitat for many fish, and as some fisheries virtually collapse, octopuses and other cephalopods are thriving.

There are about 800 living species of cephalopods including squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish. All live in salt water. Some fishermen call them "inkfish" as most of them can eject what looks like ink as a means to hide themselves. An analysis just published in Current Biology shows that numerous cephalopod species have increased their numbers since 1950.
The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Zoe Doubleday, the lead author said: “The consistency was the biggest surprise. Cephalopods are notoriously variable, and population abundance can fluctuate wildly, both within and among species. Cephalopods tend to boom and bust—they’re called the weeds of the sea.”Ironically the Australian study was begun after researchers were investigating a sudden crash in the population of the giant Australian cuttlefish.
The researchers are not certain exactly why many cephalopod species are doing so well but they can point to a number of factors that could contribute to the increase. They note that when environmental conditions are favorable, the cehalopod numbers can increase very rapidly. One of the main controls on cephalopods are predatory fish many of which are being eaten by humans. Global warming may also be a factor. Doubleday said that she did not think that there was just one single factor causing the increase in cephalopod numbers. The Adelaide study showed evidence of an increase in cephalopod numbers both in scientific data, and also fisheries records. Most species live only a year or two, dying after they give birth. They grow very quickly. They are also voracious eaters with some species eating 30 per cent of their body weight each day as adults.
Paul Rodhouse, a biological oceanographer with the British Antarcic Survey in Cambridge UK said:“This is not a sensational ‘cephalopods are taking over the world’s oceans’ story.” Further climate change could have unpredictable effects, squeezing generation times to less than a year and throwing off some species’ annual mating gatherings in the process.There is evidence that there is increasing acidification of oceans. This could impair development of some cephalopods. As many species of fish become less available for eating, humans may come to eat more squid and octopuses. If cephalopods increase too much in an area they simply may run out of food. They are also cannibalistic which also helps areas becoming too overcrowded with them. As Doubleday puts it: “There’s always competition stabilizing things. I don’t know whether we’ll eat them first or they’ll start eating each other.”

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...