Tuesday, May 27, 2014

War watch May 27 - 28 , 2014 - ​US sends assault ship with 1,000 Marines near Libya amid growing instability , Terrorist groups threaten Libya: EU special envoy ...... The ongoing turmoil in Libya which took a turn for the worse with the current Coup attempt , continues unabated - RPG attack on Ahmed Maetig’s home , Libyan diplomat held in Derna released ............ Afghanistan Update -- President Barack Obama announces on Tuesday that the United States plans to keep just under 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year, if the Afghan government signs a security agreement. A senior administration official said that number would be cut by roughly half by the end of 2015, and the military would then transition to a smaller force built around embassy security operations at the end of the following year.There currently are 32,000 American forces in Afghanistan, where the United States has fought its longest war........ Syria updates from syria Direct and Russia today


Libyan warplanes hit Benghazi bases

Armed groups operating in eastern city targeted a week after renegade former general declared campaign against them.

Last updated: 28 May 2014 17:49
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Two jets reportedly bombed a base in Benghazi belonging to the February 17th Brigade [AP]
Libyan warplanes have bombed bases of armed groups in Benghazi as part of a self-declared campaign by a renegade former general to purge the North African country of religious hardline militias.
A Reuters witness and an air force official in Benghazi said two jets bombed a base belonging to the February 17th Brigade, one of the armed groups operating in the eastern city, and an Ansar al-Sharia base in the west of the city.
"Air raids targeted a camp of the February 17 Martyrs Brigades, hitting it with two missiles," Ahmed al-Jazaoui, a former rebel, also told the AFP news agency.
February 17 is one of the biggest and most powerful militias in Benghazi. It had its origin during the uprising against longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the capital Tripoli, said that the operation was led by forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar.
There have been no reported casualties so far, she said.
Witnesses also told our correspondent that dark smoke was seen from the location of the attack. Panicked residents also reportedly fled the area.
Haftar launched a campaign last week to rid Libya of what he called "terrorists". He had earlier accused the government of being weak, and not acting against the religious hardline militias in the country
Gunmen claiming loyalty to him attacked the parliament building in capital Tripoli two weeks ago to demand a power transfer, triggering the worst clashes in the capital for months.

​US sends assault ship with 1,000 Marines near Libya amid growing instability

Published time: May 27, 2014 21:59
USS Bataan (AFP Photo /  Justin Webster)
USS Bataan (AFP Photo / Justin Webster)
The US is sending 1,000 Marines in an amphibious assault ship to Libya's coast as a “precautionary” move should the US embassy require evacuation, a US defense official said. Adding to tensions, gunmen attacked the home of Libya's new premier on Tuesday.
Gunmen attacked the Tripoli home of Libya’s new prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeq, on Tuesday. Businessman Maiteeq, 42, and his family escaped harm, according to AFP.
An aide to Maiteeq said "there was an attack with rockets and small arms on the prime minister's house" in Tripoli at 3:00 a.m. (0100 GMT). Maiteeq’s guards opened fire on the attackers, wounding and arresting two of them, the official added.
In reaction to the heightened strife in Libya, the USS Bataan, stocked with several helicopters in addition to the Marines, is to be in the nation’s coastal area “in a matter of days,” the anonymous official said, according to AFP.
The preemptive move is a reaction to increasingly violent militia battles, which could threaten the American embassy’s security, the official said.
The US also has 250 available Marines, seven Osprey combat aircraft, and three refueling aircraft in Sigonella, Italy, AFP reported.
The US State Department said last week that its embassy in Tripoli was operating as usual despite offensives launched by a dissident general, Khalifa Haftar, against the Libyan parliamentand Islamist factions.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Zahawi, the head of Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia militant group in Benghazi, warned against any US interference in the nation’s ongoing tumult.
Zahawi accused the US government of backing General Haftar, a "new Gaddafi," and an "agent of American intelligence.”
“We remind America, if they intervene, of their defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, because they would face in Libya something much worse," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "It was America who urged Haftar to turn the country towards war and bloodshed."
The State Department has denied any role in Haftar’s recent offensives despite accusations that the US is encouraging the senior military official. Haftar previously spent decades in the US before returning to Libya in 2011 to join rebels fighting the regime of then-president Muammar Gaddafi.
Following the ouster of Gaddafi in 2011, militias in a destabilized Libya expanded in numbers, both exploiting and filling in the security gap while the nation struggled with weak military and police forces.
Libya's parliament remains split by rivalries, with little democratic reforms made since 2011. The country is now under the rule of its third prime minister since March, and a new constitution is still not ready.
Maiteeq, who is backed by Islamists in parliament, was chosen as the new premier this month in a chaotic vote by the General National Congress. He replaced Abdullah Al-Thani, who resigned in April after claiming he and his family were the target of attacks.
Maiteeq has invited opponents to join a "comprehensive national dialogue to complete state institutions,” though he has also said he is committed to "pressing the battle against terrorists and those who threaten the security of the country," a nod to eastern militants, some of whom are blockading oil terminals in the region.

Libya Herald...

RPG attack on Ahmed Maetig’s home

By Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
Tripoli, 27 May 2014:
The home of Prime Minister Ahmed Maetig in Tripoli was attacked last night with RPGs.
A source close to Maetig told the Libya Herald that assailants fired two grenades at the house, in the capital’s Hay Al-Andalus area, at around 5 o’clock this morning.
Maetig and his family were in the house at the time of the attack, he said.
There have been unconfirmed reports that one of the attackers was killed and another injured in clashes with Maetig’s security team.
Last month ”caretaker” Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni declined the permanent role of Prime Minister after a similar attack on his family home.

Libyan diplomat held in Derna released

By Aimen Amzein and Moutaz Ahmed.
Benghazi, 27 May 2014:
A Libyan diplomat kidnapped in the Karsa district of Derna over two weeks ago has been released to his family.
Abdussalam Ben Saoud, an accountant working at the Libyan embassy in Yemen, was released to his sons at 3 am this morning. A local resident told the Libya Herald he was recovered from Derna’s Baljabiyla the Martyr’s School, where he was found bound and blind-folded, slumped against an exterior wall.
It is believed Saoud’s pick-up was prearranged and that a sizeable random was paid for his release.

Terrorist groups threaten Libya: EU special envoy

EU High Representative's Special Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon (Photo: Callum Paton)
EU High Representative’s Special Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon (Photo: Callum Paton)
Tripoli, 26 May 2014:
The EU High Representative’s Special Envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon, has said fighting terrorism,  is crucial to the creation of a free and democratic Libya.
Speaking at a press conference in Tripoli yesterday, following a series of meetings with top officials, Leon said “terrorist groups particularly in the east” were “a serious threat to this country and neighbouring countries”. He added that these groups also threatened the safety of the international community. He mentioned Ansar Al-Sharia in particular.
“This county has been facing increasing problems with state officials killed in Benghazi in Derna,” Leon said. “No democracy can be built in Libya if this situation continues.” He added that groups diametrically opposed to the state had to be removed.
Leon said much was required of Libyan institutions as the country faced “the worst crisis since the civil war”. He said “this is not only a message from the European community and the international community … this is a message from the Libyan streets. Libyans are expecting Libyan parties to live up to this historic moment”.
The Special Envoy said it was of crucial importance that elections to the House of Representatives go ahead on the proposed date of 25 June and that “all Libyan political actors and stakeholders work democratically and inclusively”.
Leon also referred to the ambiguous situation in the General National Congress (GNC) saying that Congress members had offered a deal to Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni allowing him to remain at his post. “The door is open for agreement between the different actors,” he said. At the time the GNC was pushing through a last minute vote to approve an incomplete cabinet which would unseat Thinni.
Responding to a question about retired general Khalifa Hafter, Leon said he had not spoken with the leader of the Dignity Operation. He said, however, that “what is important to take into account is not Hafter but what he represents”, referring to Libyans’ desire for the removal of armed groups.
Leon said in the case of Hafter he hoped all current problems could be resolved through established institutions.

GNC 1st Deputy President reaffirms illegality of 

Maetig appointment; tells Thinni to remain in 


By Moutaz Ali.
(Photo: GNC).
The GNC First Deputy head Ezzidden Al-Awami has told caretaker PM Thinni to remain in office (Photo: GNC).
Tripoli, 26 May, 2014.
Caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni has been told by the General National Congress (GNC) First Deputy Ezzidden  Al-Awami to remain in office.
In a letter published on the Prime Ministry’s website this afternoon, Awami instructed Thinni to continue as prime minister until the GNC appointed a new premier in a legal and proper way, or until the new parliament chose one after its election, scheduled for the end of June.
The move came after Awami received notification from the Justice Ministry’s legal office which confirmed that, after an investigation, Maetig’s election on 4 May was invalid.
The spokesman for Thinni’s government, Ahmed Lamin, told the Libya Herald that the request was being given careful consideration.
Meanwhile, this morning Thinni’s media office said that, with apologies to Maetig, he would have to turn down the offer of Defence Minister in the new cabinet.
This ministerial position, along with those of Health, Foreign Affairs and Planning, remain empty in the government approved at yesterday’s GNC session.

Areas of Benghazi still Ansar Al-Sharia 

strongholds: Hafter spokesman

By Noora Ibrahim.
Benghazi, 26 May 2014:
A number of Benghazi districts remain in Ansar Al-Sharia hands, the spokesman for Khalifa Hafter has said.
Mohammed Hijazi told the Libya Herald that Hafter’s forces were resolved to put an end to the presence of armed Islamist groups in the city but that areas such as Guwarsha and Hawari in particular were still in the hands of Ansar Al-Sharia.
Hijazi said said the most significant inroads made in Benghazi had been in the area of Sidi Faraj where ferocious fighting took place on 16 May between Ansar Al-Sharia, February 17 Brigade and Operation Dignity, claiming the lives of  around 70.
He said last night Hafter’s airforce planes  had carried out bombing  runs over Sidi Faraj, destroying yet more weapon stockpiles held by Islamist groups. He said, however, there was no doubt that extremists were still present in the area, although in fewer numbers.
Hijazi added in some districts Ansar Al-Sharia had regrouped. He said  a building close to Suq Hadiqa had recently become occupied by the group and that they were present in the Laithi district. Ansar Al-Sharia checkpoints at the entrances to Gwarsha also remain in operation.
The spokesman said that crucially Operation Dignity was monitoring the groups ranged against it in Benghazi saying “We even know their shoe sizes”.
He said  the forces had a number of ongoing operations and plans but that these could not be divulged to the media.

LD 1.5 million stolen in bank security van heist

By Moataz Ahmed.
Benghazi, 26 May 2014:
Some LD 1.5 million has been stolen from a bank security van in Sirte after four masked gunmen intercepted it en route to delivering a consignment of cash .
A local resident told the Libya Herald that the van was travelling from the Sirte’s  Tijara and Tamnia Bank to make a deposit at the town’s Sahara Bank branch. He said a small security force detailed to the van had been overwhelmed by the attack.
The resident said a meeting of Sirte Local Council had been called to discuss bank security. He said it was likely that all banks in the town would be closed until safety of employees could be assured.
Amman bank has today said that it will no longer accept cash deposits at any branch across the country, excluding its main Tripoli branch. The bank said this was because,  given the recent increase in bank robberies, only this branch had sufficient security staff to protect employes and customers.
It told customers it regretted the decision but asked them to be patient while the bank provided adequate escorts for security vans and better protection in their branches.
In April ten masked gunmen hijacked an Amman Bank security van in Tripoli, abducting two guards inside and making off with LD 6 million.


Obama to Announce 9,800 Troops in Afghanistan After 2014

Number Just Shy of Pentagon Requests

by Jason Ditz, May 27, 2014
President Obama intends to announce his planned troop levels for 2015 and beyond,with those familiar with it saying 9,800 troops is the goal for the start of 2015 and an intention to reduce it to 1,000 by the end of 2016.
That’s roughly in line with long-standing recommendations for 2015, with then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta pushing levels between 8,000 and 12,000, and the Pentagon recently saying that they believed 10,000 was a “bare minimum” presence.
The presence is dependent on finalizing the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan, which will happen after the run-off election. Abdullah Abdullah, the front-runner, has expressed support for the deal.
The promises of further cuts at the end of 2016 didn’t sit well with hawks, but analysts are saying they were likely intended to placate a war-weary public. Whether that means the cuts are going to happen or not remains to be seen.

Thousands of US troops to stay in Afghanistan

President Obama outlines pullout plan that will leave almost 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

Last updated: 27 May 2014 23:04
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Obama had made a surprise visit to Afghanistan last weekend and met US commanders and forces [Reuters]
US President Barack Obama has announced a pullout plan for Afghanistan that will leave 9,800 troops in the country after 2014, overriding previous plans of a complete withdrawal by the end of the year.
Obama announced the two-year plan on Tuesday saying the US would complete its military intervention by 2016. The announcement came after he reportedly briefed Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone.
Anticipating criticism of his decision for a near-total US pullout at the end of 2016, Obama said Afghanistan's security forces have shown they are capable of defending their country.
From the perspective of one neighbourhood in Herat
"We have to recognise that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place and it is not America's responsibility to make it one," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
While Karzai has declined to sign a bilateral agreement, US officials said they were confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval, the Associated Press news agency reported.
By the end of 2016, the US presence would be cut to a normal embassy presence and will staff a security office in the capital, as has been done in Iraq, a senior government official told reporters earlier on Tuesday.
Obama has also discussed his plans with several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
At least 2,181 members of the US military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded.
The total NATO presence, including US troops, is expected to be around 12,000 at the start of next year.

Syria items of note.....

US trains Syrian rebels in Qatar to ‘ambush' soldiers and 'finish off' the wounded – report

Published time: May 27, 2014 23:39
Reuters / Hosam Katan
Reuters / Hosam Katan
At a secret base in Qatar, the US military is training rebels to raid Syrian government troops and vehicles, as well as to “finish off the soldiers still alive after an ambush,” first-hand interviews in a Frontline documentary have revealed.
The documentary, scheduled to air Tuesday night on PBS stations, offers rare insight into how Washington is fostering the armed insurgency against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
It features interviews by journalist Muhammad Ali with Syrian rebels presented as members of a“moderate faction” who describe a clandestine meeting with their “American handlers” in Turkey, along with the receiving of weapons and ammunition and the subsequent travel to Qatar for training.
At a Qatar base, said to be on the border with Saudi Arabia, the rebels allegedly received three weeks of training in the use of sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques, and also received new uniforms and boots.
“They trained us to ambush regime or enemy vehicles and cut off the road,” a fighter identified only as 'Hussein' told Ali.
“They also trained us on how to attack a vehicle, raid it, retrieve information or weapons and munitions, and how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush,” the masked rebel said.
According to Ali, the 21-year-old militant had not had any prior military training, like many of his fellow fighters. Initially, Hussein and about 80 to 90 other rebels were sent to Ankara for training at the request of “American contacts,” Hussein’s commander told the journalist.
Screenshot from Frontline documentary
Screenshot from Frontline documentary

After days of interrogations “about their political leanings and their unit’s fighting history,” some military men, who the commander thought were from the CIA, told the rebels they were to be sent to a training camp in Qatar – a Persian Gulf monarchy hosting several US military bases.
How the training will impact the civil war in Syria remains to be seen. The rebels told Ali they need anti-aircraft missiles to combat Assad’s superior air forces.
“When I saw there was no training in anti-aircraft missiles, my morale was destroyed,” one fighter told Ali.
It was previously reported this month that the US supplied so-called moderate opposition forces with anti-tank weapons in a “pilot program” aimed at strengthening anti-Assad fighters. American officials said the initiative would serve as a test to see if the US could supply opposition rebels with weapons without the artillery “fall[ing] into the wrong hands,” specifically Islamist forces like the Al-Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front and other groups.
Syria was plunged into civil war in 2011 when peaceful uprisings against Assad descended into violence. As a result of the conflict, at least 150,000 people have died and millions more have been displaced and gone into exile. The international community made significant progress last year when the US and Russia agreed that Syria should destroy its chemical weapons stockpile following an attack in Damascus on August 21, 2013.
The UN's Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons task force confirmed earlier this month that 92 percent of the weapons stockpile has been removed from the war-torn nation.



Regime shells rebel-controlled Khan Sheikhoun
Syrian government helicopters attacked the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun with barrel bombs Tuesday morning, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Revolution General Council, as the Syrian army escalates an aerial campaign in response to the rebel seizure of the strategic town on Monday. Pro- and anti-Assad fighters have struggled for months to control Khan Sheikhoun, which lies in southern Idlib province along the M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria.
 “The regime has reacted harshly” to the rebel victory, Abdallah Jadaan, an Idlib-based correspondent for pro-opposition news network Syria Mubasher, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “MiG warplanes conducted several air raids and helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the town,” he said. Government forces also bombed the rebel-held town of Mourik, 5 km south of Khan Sheikhoun along the M5 on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
State media has, for its part, largely remained silent, with the exception of a report from pro-Assad Lebanese daily al-Mayadeen that Jabhat a-Nusra emir Abu Badr al-Kuwaiti had been killedas rebels stormed a regime base in Khan Sheikhoun.  
Aleppo rebels push back near Central Prison
Rebel fighters regained control of the northern Aleppo villages of al-Breij and Hailan on Monday after five days of heavy fighting as government forces attempted to push through the villages en route to Aleppo Central Prison, according to pro-opposition news site Zaman al-Wasl.
The villages sit roughly two kilometers south of the government prison, which rebel fighters had blockaded since early 2013 until last Thursday when regime forces broke the rebel siege.
Jordan, Syria expel ambassadors
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) will begin working “shortly” on appointing an ambassador to Jordan from the opposition-in-exile after the Syrian regime’s ambassador was kicked out of Amman, SNC member Mohammad Marwa told Syria Direct Tuesday.
The statement follows Jordan’s decision to expel Syrian Ambassador Bahjat Suleiman on Monday, labeling him “persona non grata.” Jordan’s Foreign Ministry accused Suleiman of “using the territory of the kingdom as a platform to level unfounded accusations.”
The Syrian government quickly responded, pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported, expelling the Jordanian ambassador and labeling Jordan’s move an attempt to “disrupt the electoral process in Syria.”
The expulsions came just two days before Syrian’s presidential elections are scheduled to officially begin in Syria’s embassies globally on May 28, when only Syrians who exited the country via legal channels will be permitted to vote. The elections inside Syria, described as a “parody” by numerous Western governments, are scheduled to take place June 3rd