Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Forces loyal to Libyan unity government inch forward against Islamic State in Sirte

Forces loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure, or BAM), move slightly further into Islamic State controlled territory in the center of the city of Sirte.

On Thursday there was heavy fighting with dozens killed on both sides. While the offensive against the Islamic State advanced rapidly in May and June, in July the BAM forces have met fierce resistance as the remaining IS fighters are encircled in a central section of Sirte. Although their headquarters have been attacked, they are not yet occupied by the BAM fighters. The BAM forces are facing heavy losses from snipers, suicide bombers, and mines every time they attempt to advance further.
Sirte is the last major city in Libya under the control of the Islamic State. It was captured last year along with a considerable stretch of coastal areas about 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the east and west, in some places extending a considerable distance to the south. However, that territory is all gone and IS now has control of just a few square kilometers within Sirte itself. The BAM forces were helped by forces from the Petroleum Forces Guard who advanced from the east and captured several towns. For some time, the IS had control of the eastern city of Derna but lost it to rival jihadists earlier this year.
Most of the BAM forces are composed of brigades from the city of Misrata. The BAM group said that they had captured a hotel on the eastern front line that had been used by IS snipers, and that they had taken control of part of the "Dollar" neighborhood. The group also claimed that they had foiled three attempts at car bomb attacks and also destroyed an armored vehicle. A tank belonging to BAM was apparently blown up.
BAM said they counted 50 bodies of IS fighters. The Misrata general hospital said that at least 25 brigade members were killed and 200 wounded. A BAM spokesperson said that since the offensive began in May more than 300 BAM fighters have been killed with more than 1,300 wounded.
A recent casualty of the Sirte offensive was TV reporter Abdulgader Fassouk, who was killed by an IS sniper. Another journalist Mohamed Aqub was wounded. The Libyan Centre for the Freedom of the Press called Fassouk "a brave journalist" and had just recently spoken of the risk to war correspondents and the lack of physical protection and safety equipment in Libya. Over a week ago it was predicted that IS resistance in Sirte would likely end in a few days but there is as yet no sign of that happening.

Pakistan to pass a law banning "honor killing"

After the "honor killing" of an outspoken media star Qandeel Baloch by her brother, Pakistan's ruling party is making moves to pass long-delayed legislation to ban honor killings.

The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Sharif, made the announcement on July 20. She said the bill will go before the legislature very soon. The present law allows family members to pardon a killer in cases where the killing is considered to be defending the honor of the family. The brother said that he was incensed by Baloch's often risqué posts on social media. Qandeel Baloch had become a household name for her posts of bold, sometimes raunchy, photographs, video and comments, in one case with a Muslim cleric. In Pakistani society where many hold conservative values, opinions are divided on this case. The brother strangled Baloch. In an unusual move, the government itself is a complainant in the case. The killing was designated as a crime against the state, and this blocked Baloch's family from forgiving the son for the crime.
Some 500 Pakistani women die from "honor killings" each year. Honor killings are a problem globally. Most of the victims are women but not all. According to Wikipedia: In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honor killings each year.[18] According to BBC, "Women's advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year."[19] Murder is not the only form of honor crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.[20]
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government wants to pass the law unanimously and has been negotiating with religious parties. In the past, the two main religious parties have opposed banning honor killings but this time Jamaat-e-Islami said it would not oppose the bill. Maryam Sharif said: "We have finalised the draft law in the light of negotiations. The final draft will be presented to a committee of joint session of parliament on July 21 for consideration and approval." The upper house of parliament had passed the bill in 2014 but the government failed to put it up for a vote apparently because it was more concerned with legislation dealing with security and economic reforms. However, now a senior government official claimed that all major parties were in support of the bill and it was likely to be passed by a joint session of parliament within a few weeks.

Protesters angry at presence of unauthorized French forces in Libya

Thousands of angry protesters marched in a number of Libyan cities on Wednesday to denounce what they claimed were French airstrikes that targeted Defend Benghazi Brigades (DBB).

The protesters also complained about the silence of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) — headed by PM Faiez Sirraj — on the issue. Actually a recent tweet says:
In Tripoli, protesters marched to Martyr's Square chanting both anti-French and anti-GNA slogans. Protests were also held in Misrata, Gharyan and Zawiya. They called for the overthrow of the GNA and formation of a higher council of revolutionaries. Salah Burki Brigade, one of the most powerful in Tripoli according to the Libya Observer, denounced the airstrikes and French intervention in Libya. France denies that its planes carried out the overnight attacks that killed 13 members of the DBB.
French president Francois Hollande confirmed today that three French soldiers had been killed in what was described as a helicopter crash during a dangerous intelligence-gathering operation. In a speech he said: "At this moment we are carrying out dangerous intelligence operations [in Libya]." Earlier in the day, French government spokesperson, Stephane Le Foli,confirmed that French special forces were operating in Libya saying: "Special forces are there, of course, to help and to make sure France is present everywhere in the struggle against terrorists." The Defend Benghazi Brigades (DBB) claimed to have shot down the helicopter.
Al Jazeera says, "Libyan military officials would not comment on the report that French nationals were on board the helicopter but said that all four in the helicopter who died were Libyans." Al Jazeera does not say whether the officials were of the GNA or from the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar who are clashing with the DBB as they advance towards Benghazi.
The Defend Benghazi Brigades were formed back in early June and marched toward Benghazi to help the Benghazi Shura Council of Revolutionaries who have mostly been defeated by Haftar's forces. The group clashed with Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) forces in Ajdabiya and then moved on towards Benghazi where they captured some territory but it appears that they have recently suffered losses particularly after airstrikes following the downing of the French helicopter. The group has strong support from the Grand Mufti, a bitter opponent of Haftar and his Operation Dignity, meant to clear Libya of Islamists, or at least any one with Islamist leanings who opposes him.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadiq al-Gharyani said the French confirmation of the death of three soldiers in western Benghazi province is an apparent declaration of war on Libya and called on Libyans to denounce such an intervention: “Libyans must unite to fight the foreign attack, the issue is crystal clear now, our country is being attacked by a foreign country – the French are fighting the revolutionaries in Benghazi.”
Gharyani said that revolutionaries should stop supporting the the PC and the GNA, as their decisions were all in favor of General Haftar and his loyal followers. He also complained that what Libya was experiencing was " a crime crafted in the intelligence lobbies and executed by the international community with the blessing of the political parties who are supposedly called revolutionaries." The existence of the DBB is causing the GNA a huge headache since the group is directly challenging Haftar in battle in open civil war. Meanwhile, the GNA with the UN has been trying to bring Haftar and the House of Representatives (HoR) to support the GNA unity government. According to the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), the HoR must vote confidence in the GNA and then become its legislature. This has yet to happen and the government of Abdullah al-Thinni with the HoR, based in Tobruk in the east, remains separate from the GNA.
Over a week ago it was revealed through audio communications that U.S., UK and French troops had all been helping Khalifa Haftar in his attacks on Islamists in Benghazi. US and UK special forces are also supporting the offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte. As a recent tweet claims:
In other words, western powers are supporting both the GNA and Haftar even though they give lip service to only recognizing the LNA. This can only encourage Haftar to keep pursuing his aim to remain head of the Libyan armed forces in any new unity government.

Monday, July 25, 2016

After Brexit IMF cuts forecast for Global Growth

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its global growth forecasts on July 19 citing uncertainty over the economic effects of the recent Brexit vote which will see the UK leave the European Union (EU).

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Even before the Brexit vote, the IMF had cut its global growth outlook. The new forecasts represent the fifth time in the last 15 months that the IMF has cut forecasts of global economic growth. In its World Economic Outlook forecast the IMF now predicts global GDP to grow at 3.1 percent in 2016 and 3.4 percent in 2017 a decline of 0.1 percent for both years from the forecast in April.
While the IMF said that there had been recent improvements in Japan and the EU, and some recovery in commodity prices, that the Brexit vote increased uncertainty which took its toll on the investment outlook and consumer confidence. The chief IMF economist, Maury Obstfield, said that a day before the Brexit vote the IMF was ready to upgrade the 2016-17 growth projections slightly higher: "But Brexit has thrown a spanner in the works."
On the day before Britain's June 23 EU referendum, the IMF was "prepared to upgrade our 2016-17 global growth projections slightly," IMF chief economist Maury Obstfeld said in a statement. "But Brexit has thrown a spanner in the works." The IMF projected that the Brexit will slow global growth both this year and next.
The IMF projects the UK GDP to grow by 1.7 percent this year. This is down from the 1.9 percent it forecast in April. The forecast for 2017 is just 1.3 percent, down from 2.2 percent forecast in April. Of the 16 economies surveyed by the IMF, the reduction of 0.9 percent in the UK's 2017 forecast was only exceeded by that of Nigeria..
The Brexit was thought to have a negligible impact on the United States' economy. The IMF statement noted that the projections were made on the basis of a relatively benign settlement of the Brexit issue between the US and Europe, that presumes no major increase in economic barriers or further financial disruptions.
If there were severe disruptions as the negotiations hit snags, the UK-EU relationship would revert to World Trade Organization rules, and London could lose a significant portion of its financial services to the continental EU. If this were to happen, the UK would fall into recession and global growth would slow to 2.8 percent both in 2016 and 2017.
Under a mid-range scenario, with lower consumer confidence, and the UK losing some of its financial services sector to Europe, global growth would be 2.9 percent in 2016 and 3.1 percent in 2017. The recovery of the markets after the Brexit lead the IMF to choose the most benign model. A spokesperson for the UK Treasury said that while the Brexit vote represented a new phase for the UK economy, the focus would remain global: "Our absolute priority is to send a clear signal to businesses both here and across the world, that we are open for business and determined to keep Britain an attractive destination for investors from overseas."
The IMF outlook for China was relatively unchanged with a marginal improvement to 6.6 percent for 2016 but slowing to 6.2 percent in 2017. The recessions in Brazil and Russia are not as severe as previously thought, with both countries expected to return to positive growth in 2017 as commodity prices improve. The Fund urged countries to support demand and introduce structural reforms to help encourage growth.

UN press release after Libyan Dialogue talks in Tunis

Now that the Libyan Political Dialogue talks held in Tunis from July 16 to 18 are over, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya has issued a press release.

The statement on the UNSMIL website said that the meetings were held to ensure that there was a continued commitment to implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat Morocco last December 17th. The meeting also was in recognition of the challenges to the implementation of the agreement that had led to the deterioration of basic services and necessities of life.
Just over half of the 40 Dialogue members attended as a recent tweet notes: "Only 22 of the 40 members of Libya Dialogue, which created the UN-backed govt, attend key meeting Tunis"
The Dialogue members also met with the Presidency Council(PC) to discuss difficulties the Council faced in trying to carry out its duty. The group decided to hold regular follow up meetings to assess steps taken by the PC to address various crises such as electrical production, cash shortages at banks and the necessity to ensure all blocked roads are open to improve security.
The PC already fired top officials of GECOL the state electricity producer including all board members. It is not clear how much fault for the electricity shortages can be blamed on the GECOL management. Some blackouts were caused by militia groups diverting power and in some areas pylons were sabotaged. GECOL managed just the day before the firings to have one unit up and running again in the recently recaptured power plant at Sirte.
The meeting also stressed the need to resume production and export of oil. No mention was made of objections by members of the HoR to the recent agreement on oil exports arrived at by the two rival National Oil Companies. The deal may already have fallen apart. No mention either that some oil fields are held by parties who do not recognized the GNA and may not allow production to flow through to oil export ports. The Dialogue also called on the two members of the nine-member PC to resume their duties.
The Dialogue members also asked the House of Representatives (HoR) to fulfill their obligations under the LPA. This is a refrain that Kobler has been singing for months now but to no avail. The Dialogue group did establish a committee to consult with the HoR in this regard and the release mentions particularly Articles 16 and 17 of the LPA; Article 16 states:The House of Representatives, after being joined by the boycotting members who wish to do so shall convene a session dedicated to the consideration of the following issues:
1. The interim location for the convening of the House of Representatives.
2. Review of the rules of procedure of the House of Representatives.
3. Formation of the House of Representatives’ committees.
4. Decisions and legislations that were issued by the House of Representatives.
5. Development of legislative work in order to promote efficiency and transparency.
Provided a decision is made on those issues no later than 15 October 2015.
Notice the date. It is not clear how the process is supposed to go now the date has passed by about ten months. The article is to be carried out only after Article 13, which involves the HoR voting confidence in the GNA. Surely the first order of business should be to ensure that this takes place. The HoR does not even recognize the GNA and has its own government. It is rather useless to try and have it perform tasks that assume it is already the legislature of the HoR.
The Dialogue also discussed issues related to the State Council, a largely advisory body composed of former members of the General National Congress of the former Salvation Government based in Tripoli. Some have complained the group has attempted to go beyond an advisory role.
The statement said the Dialogue will continue to meet regularly to check on implementation of the LPA. The group renewed its support of the PC but said continuation of support was conditional on the PC and the GNA being successful in fulfilling the tasks assigned to them by the LPA. The group was committed to building communication bridges with all Libyan parties to expand support of the LPA.
As usual what is missing from the statement is most significant. Rather strangely there is no mention of the new draft constitution presented to the group on Saturday. Why? Is there too much opposition to the draft? Was the draft passed using the revised quorum requirement that a court had said was illegal? Nothing is explained. The Libya Prospect even reports that discussion of the draft constitution was linked by Kobler "to the necessity of unifying the Libyan army under the Presidential Council." It is not clear to me how these two items are linked but in any event the linkage or even the new constitution are not worth a mention in the final communique.
The statement fails to mention General Haftar and the failure to have him join a unified command under the PC as required by the LPA. Indeed, the press statement does not even mention creation of one unified Libyan army under PC command as Kobler emphasized as a necessity for Libya to be unified and secure. This was one of the important issues talked about yet it is not mentioned in the press release. The Tripoli Post says that not much seems to have been accomplished by the three day meetings. Kobler had suggested that he would have new plans after the end of Ramadan but they do not seem to have been evident at the Tunis meetings.
The 71 strong National Sovereignty Bloc complained that the committee which the HoR had formed to be part of the Dialogue had been dissolved earlier this year. Kobler simply ignored this and continued to deal with the group, thus ignoring the will of the HoR. The group said Kobler was acting as if he were the governor of Libya. The group said Kobler ruled Libya according to his whims. The group also said that the State Council was corrupt and that the PC was bribing politicians by offering them and their relatives jobs.

Powerful Shia cleric says US troops are a target

Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers to target U.S. ground troops deploying in Iraq to help fight against the Islamic State.

While Al-Sadr has tolerated the allied bombing campaign, he has constantly warned about the presence of U.S. troops on the ground. The U.S. has been continually raising the number of troops on the ground in Iraq even though they are supposedly just in an advisory role. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said 560 additional troops will be sent later this year to Iraq to help retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State. The total U.S. troops in Iraq now will be 4,647, although troops just in Iraq for a short term apparently are not counted.
Al-Sadr was prominent after the 2003 occupation of Iraq. His Mahdi army — disbanded in 2008 and replaced by the Peace Brigades, who helped keep the Islamic State out of Baghdad — often battled with U.S. troops. The group is present in Baghdad and several other cities.
Sadr's main target so far has nothing to do with the U.S. and its troops but is against his own government. Sadr and others have been demanding reforms of the government and political system to root out corruption. Sadr's followers and supporters of reform have already twice breached the Green Zone, an ultra-secure area where the parliament and many embassies are. When the Zone was breached, the Iraqi parliament was the target, not the U.S. embassy.
Other Shi'ite militias have made similar pledges to target U.S. troops, but so far none have attacked them. If Sadr actually carries through on his threats, this could cause serious problems for the U.S. deployment in Iraq — the U.S. might find itself having to fight Shi'ite militias who are allies in the fight against IS. However, it seems Al Sadr's more immediate goal is to reform the Iraqi government. He wants to replace often corrupt cabinet ministers appointed by parties by technocrats. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tried to implement reforms of the type Sadr recommends but political pressure has prevented him from doing so. The present parties benefit from the existing power-sharing system.
Just last Friday, Sadr supporters demonstrated at the entrance to the Green Zone but no attempt was made to breach the barrier. Security was tight and included representatives of the Peace Brigades.
Just today, Al-Abadi announced the resignation of six cabinet ministers. One was the Interior Minister who resigned after the recent blast in Baghdad on July 3 that killed almost 300 people. However, the oil minister also resigned, as did the minister of transport, housing, water resources and industry. Al-Abadi said he wanted to move away from the present power-sharing system. Perhaps with the resignation of the six ministers, Al-Abadi will be able to meet some of Al-Sadr's demands for reform.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Protests over salaries close down Al-Hariga port in Tobruk Libya

The protesters, affiliated with the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) shut Al-Hariga port down in Tobruk because of delays in being paid.

Spokesperson for the new unified National Oil Company (NOC) Mohammed Al-Harari claimed the protesters were no more than 30 people in all. They came from Tobruk on Wednesday, and shut down the port stopping all export of oil. Al Harari said: “We are doing some effort to solve this problem, some elders from Tobruk and some officials from Al-Khaleej Al-Arabi Oil Company are trying to reopen the oil port so that they avoid the country a possible economic melt-down.” Al-Harari indicated there were already two ships waiting to be loaded. Libyan export firms could be subject to huge fines.
Al-Harari concluded:“Libya’s oil exportation is almost at 220 bpd and shutting down Al-Hariga oil port could diminish the output into its half, not to mention that it will affect Tobruk refinery station as crude oil will stop to be pumped into it.” Just before the revolution against Gadaffi, production was at 1.6 million barrels a day. The Al-Hariga port has an export capacity of about 120,000 barrels per day.
At the beginning of July, the two rival Libyan National Oil Companies, the one based in Tripoli and associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the other in Bayda, associated with the government of the House of Representatives(HoR) agreed to merge. Many were optimistic that production would soon increase significantly. Positive talks were held with Ibrahim Jodhran, head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, at the two ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. Jodhran accepts the GNA
Helma Croft of RBC Capital Markets said: "While [the Jathran news] has led to speculation that the country’s output could quickly increase, historical evidence leads us to be more cautious. Jathran’s pledge of loyalty to the GNA government has led to speculation that the country's output could quickly double from around 350 kb/d. It should be noted that Jathran has made similar promises in the past, only to change his mind."
Even more troubling is that the agreement has not been accepted by the HoR government, with PM Al-Thani demanding that the HoR receive 40 percent of oil revenue. He made other demands as well including moving the headquarters of the NOC from Tripoli to Benghazi. This was agreed to as part of the original agreement.
A BMI research team noted: While we are more constructive on the prospects for a reopening of the ports, we expect the process to be relatively slow. Technical constraints will be significant, with large-scale maintenance works required to prepare the ports for commissioning. It is probable that substantial damage to infrastructure has been incurred and this — alongside the stop-start nature of Libya's production — will likely weigh on growth."
The situation is further complicated by the fact that many different groups have control of oil fields or of pipelines coming from the oil fields and they are able to prevent oil from reaching export terminals. While Libya is anxious to export oil to help an ailing economy it appears unlikely that production and export increases dramatically unless there is more agreement among those who have control over production.

Russia and US to increase cooperation in Syria

John Kerry U.S. Secretary of State said on July 15 that Russia and the U.S. had agreed to cooperate in Syria against the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

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Kerry said the cooperation was intended to "restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition." Kerry appeared alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Kerry did not give any details as to what exactly had been agreed upon.
. The decision to have greater military cooperation with Russia is causing divisions within the US government, with the Pentagon challenging the view that Russia could be trusted to fulfill its part of any agreement. Kerry's statement appeared to reflect awareness of this skepticism as he said: "I want to emphasize, though, they are not based on trust. They define specific, sequential responsibilities all parties to the conflict must assume with the intent of stopping all together the indiscriminate bombing of the Assad regime and stepping up our efforts against al Nusra."
CNN has obtained a draft of the proposed agreement which would allow targeting and carrying out joint airstrikes against both the Islamic State and also the Nusra Front. CNN claims that the agreement does not necessarily apply to attacks on ISIS, as each country would reserve the right to attack the Islamic State independently. As part of the agreement the Assad air force would be largely grounded except in certain circumstances.
Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook, told reporters: "The secretary of defense has been clear that he has been skeptical of Russia's activities in Syria and we have reason for that. There's plenty of reasons for that skepticism, And I think he maintains that skepticism." The Defense Department would like to see guarantees that Russia will keep its end of the bargain.
As reported in Sputniknews, an article in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, claims the new agreement could involve a reset in relations between Russia and the US, and an "arms brotherhood" in the battle against terrorism. The article claims: "The fact that President Barack Obama gradually gives up his original goal — the overthrow of Assad, and gives priority to the fight against Islamic State has become noticeable long ago. The planned new partnership with Moscow would consolidate this course" Moscow has long been seeking such military cooperation with the US in Syria. The new development has resulted in Russian media replacing criticism of Obma by describing him as a new partner of Russia in Syria. In early July, Russian president Putin said that Western states were partners in the fight against terrorism, and that Russia wanted to work closely with the US on international issues. Kerry visited Moscow on July 14 and 15 with the US offer of cooperation. The meeting also discussed the sharing of intelligence data on terrorism. Detailed discussion of the offer can be found in an article in the Washington Post.

"28 pages" about Saudi involvement in 9/11 finally released

The US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has at least released the secret "28 pages" from the 9/11 report which deal almost entirely with the relationship of the Saudi Arabian government to the attacks.

The White House claims even after the release that these pages prove that Saudis had nothing to with the attack. While there is, one might say, no smoking gun, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that there were contacts between hijackers and individuals who were associated with the Saudi government. The full redacted text of the 28 pages can be read here.
Many political figures such as former Sen. Bob Graham and Congressman Rick Nolan have long been calling for release of the pages.Graham claimed the pages point a "very strong finger at Saudi Arabia."
The report admits: “While in the United States, some of the September 11th hijackers were in contact with or received assistance from, individuals who may be connected with the Saudi government.” FBI sources also believed that at least two of those individuals were Saudi intelligence agents. TheIntercept reports:One of the most notable figures mentioned is Omar al-Bayoumi, alleged by the report to have likely been a Saudi intelligence agent. Al-Bayoumi was in close contact with hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, providing them financial assistance during their time in the United States and even helping them find an apartment. Bayoumi in turn is believed to have been on the payroll of the Saudi Ministry of Defense and was regularly in receipt of large lump sums of money from the Saudi Ministry of Finance and other undisclosed arms of the government.
Bayouni was supposedly an employee of Ercan, a subsidiary of a company with substantial ties to the Saudi Defense Ministry. He was only confirmed to have gone to Ercan once. Nevertheless he received a $465 per month "allowance" from the company. After he met with the hijackers this was increased to $3,700 a month. Bayouni's wife also received $1200 a month from the wife of the former ambassador to the US. The two kept receiving the money until they left the US in July or early August of 2001.
Another important figure is Osama Bassnan a Saudi-citizen and associate of al-Bayoumi who lived in an apartment close by al-Hazmi and al-Midhar. He is reported to have said to the FBI that he did more for the hijackers than al-Bayoumi did. Bassnan and his wife received regular payments from the wife of former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan. On one occasion Bassnan was said to have received a check directly from the prince's account. Bassnan said he was introduced to the hijackers by Bayouni. The CIA says they believe Bassman got a fake passport from the Saudi government. He was a known supporter of Al Qaeda, and had spoken of bin Laden as being like a god as far back as 1992. The money given to his wife by the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan totalling $74,000 dollars was supposedly for nursing services but there was no evidence such services were ever provided.
Saleh al-Hussayen, described as a Saudi Interior Ministry employee or official, stayed in the same hotel as one of the hijackers in the days before the attack. When interviewed by FBI officials, he kept passing out or feigning a seizure, terminating the interview. He later fled the US. Much of the material in the pages is not new but confirms statements already made.The Saudi government said that it welcomed the release of the pages claiming that they exonerate Saudi Arabia of any direct role in the attacks. However, it certainly does point to persons associated with the Saudi Government as having helped some of the hijackers. The report notes that Saudi authorities consistently refused to cooperate with investigators who were trying to discover more information about the hijackers. FBI agents and CIA officers complained to the 9/11 inquiry that the Saudis often failed to cooperate both before and after the 9/11 attack.
The report also mentions that several Saudi Naval officers had contact with the hijackers before the attack, but the entire section on this is mostly redacted so the details are not known. The Joint Inquiry tended to make light of the considerable evidence of Saudi involvement presented by the FBI and CIA claiming that the reports were not independently confirmed and that there could be "innocent explanations" for the aid provided to the hijackers. In spite of the spin put on what is in the pages by the US government and the Saudis, the pages contain plenty of circumstantial evidence supporting those who claim that the Saudis played a significant role in helping out at least some of the hijackers.

Troops loyal to Libyan unity government attack Islamic State headquarters in Sirte

The Albinyan Almarsoos (Solid Structure, BAM or Albunian) forces, loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) are reported to have attacked a conference hall in the middle of Sirte, the headquarters of the Islamic State (IS).

The IS has been surrounded in the city for some time but suicide bombers, booby traps, and snipers have caused heavy losses and slowed the advance of the BAM forces, who are mostly composed of militia members from the city of Misrata. The campaign against the IS has now lasted two months butsome predict the offensive will soon be victorious. The advance is also slowing down in order to ensure that there are not too many civilian casualties as the IS appears to be using civilians as shields.
Sirte has been under control of the IS since last year and had extended its control along 250 kilometers (155 miles) of coastllne often to a considerable depth to the south. If the IS loses Sirte it will have control of no significant territory in Libya although no doubt it will retain a presence in many areas and be able to launch attacks.
On Friday, Aziz Issa, a spokesperson for the central hospital in Misrata, said at least 20 members were killed and another 120 wounded, a relatively high toll. Ahmed Hadia said that clashes around the Ouagadougou Conference Hall and the Ghiz Asskariya neighborhood had been ongoing for two days. Hadia claimed BAM forces had actually entered the complex but were not able to hold it. He said that the IS used three car bombs in an attempt to counter attack. The conference hall is a key site but so far the BAM forces have been unable to oust the IS from their headquarters.
Another report on Friday spoke of BAM forces only coming within a few hundred meters of the Islamic State headquarters. The report quotes, Mohammed Ghasri, a spokesperson for the BAM forces as saying:“Once you control Ouagadougou, the battle is over.” There is a recent photo of the conference hall here and a video of recent battles hereThe report claims only 14 killed on Friday and 50 injured according to Ghasri.
recent tweet gives a third casualty number: 25 killed + 120 wounded From #albunian force In sirt Friday. Another tweet suggests that the headquarters of the IS is full of booby traps and even two hidden IS fighters exploded themselves when BAM troops stormed the basement: #albunian All #wag HQ R booby trapped Underground R hiden suicide terrorests wait 2 explode them selves when we storm the basement

Defense minister of Libyan unity government survives assassination attempt

An official statement from the office of the GNA Defense Minister Mahdi al-Barghathi reports that he survived an attempted assassination on Wednesday by a car bomb.

Al-Barghathi was leaving an army barracks in the city of Benghazi. One of his guards was said to be injured by shrapnel. Another report says that a man and two of his daughters who were passing by were also injured. The same report claims the attack was Wednesday night rather than Thursday as theDaily Mail reports, as does Libya Prospect.
Apparently Barghathi had been meeting with a number of chiefs of armed brigades mostly from his Awaqir tribe at the 204 Tanks brigade office. The attack, according to the Barghathi's media office, was not at the offices themselves but a bomb parked at the roundabout of the Al-Arab Medical University went off as Barghathi's motorcade passed.
Barghathi is at odds with General Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the House of Representatives (HoR). Neither the HoR nor Haftar recognize the GNA. Martin Kobler the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) has been unable to have the HoR vote confidence in the GNA as is required by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). Although the HoR has had many meetings they have either lacked a quorum or been disrupted.The LPA makes the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA commander in chief of GNA forces until a new one is chosen. Haftar wants to remain as commander in chief as he is now. After approval by the HoR, the HoR becomes the legislature of the GNA.
The Libya Observer notes that the Awaqir tribe is at odds with Haftar. Faraj Egaim, chief of the so-called Special Tasks Force, an armed group from the tribe, revealed that a group loyal to Haftar had been busted in Benghazi for attempting to assassinate Baraghathi. Relations between Haftar and Baraghathi have deteriorated ever since Baraghathi accepted the post of defense minister in the GNA. His appointment was not approved by Haftar, even though he is part of Haftar's Operation Dignity. Salah Bulghaib of Military Intelligence's group — which also took Baraghathi's side — was branded as a militia and dissolved by Haftar. The Presidency Council (PC) confirmed the assassination incident and called for it to be investigated.
The Libya Prospect notes that the Awagir tribe has been at odds with Haftar for some time and that the assassination attempt could exacerbate the situation. Most meetings of the tribe have supported Barghathi and the tribe has threatened to withdraw their members from Haftar's forces. The Military Intelligence Commander Salah Abu-Lagheeb claimed that the HoR Interior Minister ordered a force of Barghathi's Tank Battalion "204" and the second Salafi Battalion to retreat from areas where the Haftar forces are confronting the Defend Benghazi Brigades, who are advancing towards Benghazi to aid the remaining Shura Council Forces there.

Libyan unity government moves into new offices amid protests

While a red carpet was rolled out to welcome the 7 members of the Presidency Council (PC) of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to new quarters in Tripoli, elsewhere in the city, protesters were setting tires on fire and blocking roads.

The GNA Presidency Council has finally moved away from the Tripoli naval base that had been its headquarters since March 30 — a total of 103 days. The new headquarters were formerly occupied by the Salvation Government associated with the General National Congress (GNC). The buildings were defended by a militia loyal to the Salvation Government, but in April another militia loyal to the GNA and its head, Faiez Serraj, seized the headquarters. The defending militia claimed they did not resist in order to avoid bloodshed.
While the Salvation Government has virtually ceased to exist with many members now part of the GNA State Council, the PM Kalifa Ghwell and a few others meet from time to time in Tripoli and MIsrata. Ghwell warned that the Presidency Council will be required to pay for any damage done to the complex.
The protesters in Tripoli were angry at the GNA's inability to solve shortages of electricity causing constant blackouts. There is also an acute shortage of cash with long queues at banks. The banks claim that people are hoarding cash and not depositing it. However, there have been large shipments of new banknotes both from the UK and from Russia. There is also a shortage of water, and prices of goods rise as the value of the Libyan dinar declines. Residents are also angry at the lack of security within the city with the militia not under the control of the GNA.
Just one day after the GNA was relocated from the Abu Sitah Naval Base, protesters stormed the Libyana Mobile Phone Company, Libya's largest phone provider, and also Libya Telecom and Technology, the largest internet provider. Some reports even claim that the naval base was stormed. The armed demonstrators demanded that phone services be cut to Misrata and Zawiya as they are alleged to have been hogging the electricity supply.
The banks apparently are worried about inflation, and as a result issue the new banknotes in small quantities creating huge lineups. A Tripoli engineer said: “My father spent six hours waiting in a line outside his bank, and all he was given was 300 dinars (Dh780)." The US dollar is trading at 4.35 dinars on the black market compared to the official rate of 1.3 dinars.
Security and the rule of law have yet to come to Tripoli. Twelve former Gadaffi troops were ordered released by a court only to be murdered. Although an investigation was immediately ordered, after a month no one has been charged.
Serraj and the GNA have yet to impose their will on the entire nation and in particular have not been able to convince the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) to vote confidence in the GNA and become its legislative body. Neither have they been able to have the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army of the HoR join a unified command under the PC. According to the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) the PC is the commander in chief of the armed forces until a new one is chosen. Haftar wants to remain as commander in chief of the LNA under any new unity government. Haftar refuses to meet with Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Kobler has been meeting with various officials in Cairo prior to a meeting of members of the Libyan Dialogue to be held this Sunday In Tunis. It is not clear what Kobler has in mind but it seems as if he might try to find some way of avoiding having a vote of confidence by the HoR. It is not clear how this will be possible without violating the HoR. Perhaps he intends to amend it even though he constantly warned both the GNC and the HoR previously that it could not be amended.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

US expects $40 billion in foreign military sales this fiscal year.

For the fiscal year ending on October 1, 2016, the U.S. is on track to rack up $40 billion in foreign military sales. Exports sales are down from $46.6 billion last year, according to a top Pentagon official.

U.S. Navy Vice Admiral, Joe Rixey, head of the Pentagon Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) provided the statistics at the Farnborough International Airshow, saying: "We're tracking toward $40 billion. We're tracking toward our forecast. " While Rixey admitted that the total still could be different depending on what happens in the fourth quarter, Rixey did not think the Brexit will change U.S. sales to the UK. He cited two large UK purchases from Boeing just recently.
Rixey said global demand for U.S. helicopters and weapons remains strong. Rixey has created over 40 different initiatives to make the approval process quicker and more efficient in response to criticism that there were delays in handling the large number of requests. Industry officials and top U.S. military officials have complained about delays in approval of fighter jet sales to allies in the Gulf and elsewhere. However, Rixey noted that his agency only facilitated sales which first had to be approved by the U.S. State Department, Pentagon, and White House.
Stalled deals include a sale of 36 F-15 jet fighters to Qatar for $4 billion and a $3 billion deal to sell 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Kuwait. Both are built by Boeing. Rixey explained: "Anything that is in foreign policy review is actually part of the deliberate conversation. When we get stalled there, the system is not broken, but actually acting as intended. We’re having a debate about foreign policy."
Rixey noted that increasing demands cause stress for government agencies charged with evaluating proposals. Rixey said: "It’s not broken but it’s certainly burdened, with $47 billion (in arms sales approvals) in FY15, and we're approaching $40 billion this year. We’ve got to make sure that we get better." The decline this year from last is actually caused in part by the burdened system, according to Rixey. If the stalled Kuwait and Qatar deals had been approved the export total would have been slightly above last year at $47 billion.
The U.S. exports more weapons than any other country and the 2015 level was a record. Worldwide, the U.S. is responsible for 33 percent of military exports. The top recipient of U.S. arms from 2011-2015 was Saudi Arabia, closely followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which has been collecting data since 1968. However, the the largest military aid program, according to a recent report, is to go to Israel. The rest of the top 10 were: Turkey, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, India, Iraq,
The State Department's 2017 budget request includes approximately $5.7 billion for Foreign Military Financing. In the proposed budget, the top five recipients of American foreign military financing will be Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion), with lesser amounts going to Jordan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Other prominent exporters of arms are Russia, China, France and Germany. China is increasing its share of global arms exports rather quickly.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

UN envoy to Libya suggests the Libyan army could be decentralized.

In an interview in Cairo with the Associated Press (AP), Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Martin Kobler suggested a new reconstituted army of the Government of National Accord (GNA) could be decentralized.

Kobler sees a decentralized armed forces as a way of helping to prevent political gridlock that seems to be gripping the country now, as he is unable to convince the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) to vote confidence in the GNA and become its legislature. Kobler spoke to the AP after he had talks in Cairo with a number of Libyan officials aimed at finding a solution to the political impasse. Egypt is a strong supporter of Haftar. Haftar and his allies insist on his remaining commander-in-chief of any new Libyan National Army (LNA). Haftar is now just commander-in-chief of the LNA associated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives(HoR) government of PM Abdullah Al-Thinni.
Kobler has been discussing the formation of military councils from the three historic regions of Libya: the west (Tripolitania), the east (Cyrenaica) and the south (Fezzan). The leadership of the armed forces is a point of contention between the GNA and the HoR. Haftar has considerable support in the east, including support for his Operation Dignity, aimed at ridding Libya of Islamic extremists whom he regards as terrorists. Haftar appears to consider any group with Islamist tendencies who oppose him as terrorists. This would include groups such as the Misrata brigades who are leading the offensive against the Islamic State (IS) in Sirte.
Many in the west consider Haftar a war criminal and do not want him to have any position in new GNA armed forces. The Misrata brigades would be among those in strong opposition to Haftar.
Any regional decentralization would be complicated by the fact that there are groups in the east who support the GNA and in the west who support Haftar. The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) headed by Ibrahim Jodhran support the GNA and are opposed to Haftar, while the Zintan brigades in the west are loyal to Haftar. The situation is complicated in the south as well where different areas are held by different groups.
The Kobler plan seems fraught with difficulties. What makes the situation even worse is that there is no sign that Haftar is interested in what Kobler is trying to do or would agree to a reduced role in the GNA as a commander of a region. As Kobler points out his requests for a meeting with Kobler have been denied.
In a rare admission of the problems he faces, Kobler said that although the GNA had international recognition and backing it lacked "national legitimacy." Until Kobler manages to get the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA, it is not clear how the GNA can serve as a credible interim government for up to two years while a new constitution is approved setting guidelines for parliamentary and presidential elections. It is not clear either how setting up regional military councils would help advance this process.
Chris Stephen tweeted recently: #Libya UN envoy army plan seems to mean single command Zintan-Misrata in Tripolitania and Benghazi Shura Council-army in Cyrenaica.
As I noted, earlier, any unified command even within the western or eastern areas is complicated by divisions within them. In the case of the Benghazi Shura Council, Haftar and the LNA are not about to share a command with them but intend to eliminate them, and the same appears to be the case with the Shura Council of Jihadists in Derna. It is not likely Haftar would agree to unite with the PFG either. The Zintan brigades and those of Misrata are also completely at odds, with Misrata supporting the GNA and opposing Haftar, while Zintan brigades are loyal to Haftar.
Kobler notes that the GNA army cannot be formed until the various militias disband and turn in their weapons. This should be done through negotiations he suggests, to avoid a possible civil war. However, there appears no movement towards reaching this goal and the GNA is dependent upon various militia groups for security. However, as clashes and protests have shown, the GNA often has little control over the actions of different militia groups. Kobler thinks that forming regional councils may encourage militias to disband. Given the divisions within the three areas, it is not clear why or how this would happen.
However, Kobler claims he is still in favor of a unified Libyan army structure. This was his aim prior to the offensive against Sirte but Haftar refused to join even though he himself claimed he was marching to liberate the city. Kobler claimed: "You can't have a united Libya with two or three armies." However, it is not clear how this view is consistent with having three military councils in three different regions. If Haftar were commander of the Cyrenaica region he might not accept a commander of all three regions chosen by the GNA. He appears to have no interest in Kobler's scheme in any event. He would probably agree with Kobler that you need one army for a united Libya — one army with Khalifa Haftar as commander-in-chief.

Islamic State likely to face defeat in the next few days in Sirte Libya

According Brigadier Mohammed Al-Gosri, the spokesperson for Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure or BAM), artillery shelling on ISIS militants encircled in a small area of Sirte has continued for five days.

Al-Gosri said that the resistance is likely to collapse in the next few days. He said most of the militants are hiding in the Ouagadougou Conference Hall, headquarters for the group. However, he said that there were pockets of resistance in some residential areas. Over the last few days the BAM forces do not seem to have advanced far and they were within attacking distance of the Ouagadougou Hall since the first days of July. However Rida Issa spokesperson for the Misrata forces of BAM said: "Our forces have...targeted militants with artillery and air force around Ouagadougou complex, Ghiza Asskariya district, and in the city center. They have targeted Islamic State members, vehicles, ammunition stores, and control rooms."
The two-month long offensive against the Islamic State has been costly for BAM forces with the death toll now 241 according to sources at the Misrata Hospital. The sources also said that 1400 wounded fighter are currently being treated both within and outside of Libya. Some are in Turkey, Italy and Tunisia. The retaking of Sirte, which the IS captured in June last year would be a major blow to the group as they would no longer control any cities or even significant territory in Libya. No doubt there are cells in various locations, and many fighters may have fled the offensive.
Some suggest that if the IS is defeated that divisions within Libya may increase. An article in MSN explains that most of the BAM forces are militia from Misrata. They get almost no help from the Government of National Accord (GNA) to which they are loyal at present. Many do not have proper helmets or bullet-proof vests that could have saved many lives. Misrata fighterMohamed Yousef said: "We get nothing from the unity government. This is supposed to be a fight for Libya, but it's been 70 percent led by Misrata. If nothing changes, Seraj's time will come. Maybe he will do well, but if nothing changes?" As the Libyan Gazette puts it the Misrata militia are frustrated by the GNA attempt to somehow accommodate General Khalifa Haftar who refuses to recognize the GNA government or cooperate with its armed forces. The Misrata militia are opposed to Haftar having any role in the GNA government and regard him as a war criminal.
The divisions that many correctly observe were there before the Sirte offensive. The most that the defeat of the Islamic State might do is exacerbate it. There are already a group of militia, the Defend Benghazi Brigades, who have launched attacks on Haftar's forces at Ajdabiya and on the road to Benghazi.
Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, is apparently trying to find new means of moving the Libya Political Agreement forward after failing so far to get the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA. However, it is hard to see how he can accommodate the demands of Haftar and his supporters, who want him to remain commander of the new GNA armed forces, and those such as the Misrata militia who want to ban him from any role in the GNA.

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