Sunday, May 3, 2015

Video - Women and children rescued from Boko Haram

Video report - Yemen: Saudi-led coalition faces claims of ground offensive and cluster bomb use

Video - Anti-police brutality protesters clash with cops in Tel Aviv

Russia Slams Polish President's Remarks on Victory Day Parade in Moscow

Russian officials have criticized the Polish president for calling the Victory Day parade in Moscow a "demonstration of force" and reminded Komorowski that it was the Soviet Union that had liberated the country from Nazism.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said on Sunday that the upcoming Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9 is a "demonstration of force" and an example of an "unstable world." According to him, the Red Square once again will become a "tank square."
First deputy head of the International Committee of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament Leonid Kalashnikov said that Russian tanks had liberated Poland during World War II when commenting on Komorowski's remarks.
"If not for the tanks mentioned by the president of Poland, Poland would not exist now on the world map. I must remind you that, according to the Nazi plans, Poland was supposed to be a territory that Germany was preparing for the resettlement of the German population. Others were supposed to be expelled and destroyed. And only due to Russian tanks they [Poland] gained their freedom and sovereignty."

Ten years ago and even last year Poland did not treat Russian parades this way because "a parade is not saber-rattling, it is a reminder that, unfortunately, violence still exists in the world and armed forces protect a country from that violence," Kalashnikov told RIA Novosti.
By making such a statement, Polish authorities reaffirm their commitment to hostile rhetoric toward Russia, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation Andrei Klishas said.
According to Klishas, Komorowski should not forget that it was the Soviet Army that had liberated Poland from Nazis. "But, apparently, this fact does not fit into the story of a 'free Europe', part of which Poland considers itself."

The head of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, Alexei Pushkov, ironically commented on the Polish president's statement, who called the Victory Day Parade in Moscow a "demonstration of force".
"If one listens to Warsaw, then one day the [Russian] bikers threaten Poland's security, another day our parade."
Earlier this week, Poland banned the Russian motorcycle group "Night Wolves" from riding through the country's territory to Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazism during World War II.

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4.0 Magnitude Quake Near San Francisco Suburb

A 4.0 magnitude earthquake rattled San Francisco Bay Area residents Sunday afternoon.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake hit about one mile south of the city of Concord.
Residents reported several seconds of shaking. Concord police dispatchers said they received no immediate reports of property damage or injuries.

Video - US Senate at Crossroads on Iran Nuclear Bill

Counterterrorism, Economic Development Key Issues for Kerry in Kenya

Pamela Dockins

After an afternoon of touring Nairobi National Park, which included an up-close encounter with baby elephants and scenic views of wildlife, Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to turn his attention to counterterrorism and economic development issues.
On Monday, Kerry meets with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and other top officials as well as some of the country's opposition leaders.
The visit comes at a time of heightened concern about attacks in neighboring countries carried out by al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked militant group based in Somalia.  
The group launched one such attack several weeks ago at Kenya's Garissa University.  The attack left 147 people dead.

In a background briefing, a senior State Department official said discussing ways to more effectively deal with threats posed by al-Shabab would be a key focal point for Kerry.

"Our message is that fighting terrorism requires a multi-faced approach," the official said.

The United States has been conducting drone strikes and providing support to African Union troops fighting al-Shabab militants. The official said engaging with regional leaders on environmental and political conditions were also part of the U.S. strategy.

During his time in Kenya, Kerry will also visit Nairobi's August 7 Memorial Park, the site of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing that left more than 200 people dead.

The attack at the embassy in Kenya and one carried out at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were a "wake-up call" for the United States, said Peter Pham, the director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center.
"A call for a course of correction on our perception of Africa," said Pham.

He said the attacks prompted the U.S. government to take a closer look at its engagement in East Africa.
"They came less than two years after a Department of Defense document on U.S. strategy in sub-Saharan Africa declared, amazingly, for those of us who know, love and work on Africa, that in the eyes of the planners who wrote that document, that Africa had  and I quote  'little strategic value for the United States,' " said Pham.

After visiting Kenya, Kerry travels to Djibouti, the home of a U.S. military hub for the Horn of Africa region.

Video report - Baltimore city-wide curfew lifted

Ahmad Zahir "Khuda Bowad Yaret"

'Community had a responsiblity' to Afghan woman lynched by mob: lawyer

By Erin Conroy
An Afghan court showed video Sunday of a crowd killing a woman in broad daylight and setting her body on fire after she was accused of burning pages from a Koran. The judge asked prosecutors to show the brutal footage, recorded on mobile devices, during the second day of trial for 49 men accused in the murder - including 19 police officers charged with neglecting their duties.

Kimberley Motley, attorney representing Farkhunda's family

The 19 March killing of Farkhunda in Kabul has prompted outrage and protests in the Afghan capital. An investigation has found that the 27-year-old woman was falsely accused of damaging a copy of the Muslim holy book by a religious leader during an argument.
Kimberley Motley, an American litigator practicing in Afghanistan who is representing Farkhunda's family during the trial, told RFI Sunday that the case has sparked soul-searching over what is widely seen as a general low regard for women in Afghan society.
“I think this case is very significant for women’s rights, it’s very significant for human rights and it’s very significant for the future of Afghanistan,” Motley said. “While the perpetrators are also being put on trial, I think the justice system is very much being put on trial.”
The defendants have been charged with assault, murder and encouraging others to participate in the vicious attack.
While there is a provision under Afghan law in which people are obligated to step in if they see that someone is being abused, no one has yet been prosecuted for such an offence, Motley says.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of people that witnessed, filmed and participated in Farkhunda’s demise, and so it’s very important that people are also prosecuted for this because the community had a responsiblity to Farkhunda in order to protect her and to try and prevent what happened to her,” she told RFI.
Sunday's testimony focused on whether police could have done more to save Farkhunda.
The police mobile response team called to the scene by dispatchers did not immediately respond.
A team member named Frotan, who like many Afghans uses only one name, testified that he was with his sick mother at a hospital and did not hear the radio dispatch.

Afghan security forces suffer record casualties

By Jim Michaels

Afghan security forces have suffered record casualties this year as they combat Taliban rebels largely without the benefit of U.S. air power and other international military support they had come to rely on in the past, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The number of Afghans in the police and army killed or wounded has increased 70% in the first 15 weeks of 2015, compared to the same period last year, the officials said. The casualties have averaged about 330 a week.
"We are taking so many casualties," Afghan Interior Minister Nur ul-Haq Ulumi said Sunday. "That is the reality."
The reduction of airstrikes and cutbacks in surveillance by a U.S.-led military coalition that occupied Afghanistan for more than a decade has given the insurgents more freedom to move around the country.
Ulumi said the Taliban remain in small groups and are unable to mass in large formations that would threaten Afghanistan's conventional army forces. But their lethal strikes underscore the rebels' tenacity to wage war against the U.S.-backed government here and wait out the full withdrawal of foreign troops.
The foreign coalition changed its mission this year from combat to advising and assisting Afghan forces. That has reduced the presence of American personnel to just under 10,000. After 2016, the number of U.S. troops will be cut to a small contingent attached to the U.S. Embassy, according to White House plans.
The United States and its international allies have been gradually reducing their presence in the country, as it transferred more responsibility for the battle against the Taliban to Afghanistan's military.
The United States and its allies have pledged they will continue to fund and help equip the 352,000-person security force beyond that time.
Last month, Taliban militants overran a number of outposts in the northern province of Kunduz. Afghan forces have been slowed in recapturing terrain from the Taliban because the militants seeded the area with roadside bombs.
Because the Taliban are not able to muster groups of more than several dozen fighters, they have been unable to mount offensives on anything more than small checkpoints.
Afghan and coalition officials said security forces have been able to hold terrain despite the high casualty rate among soldiers and police.
"This doesn't mean that the insurgents are more able and powerful than us," Ulumi said in an interview with a small group of reporters.
Casualties are particularly high among Afghan police forces locally recruited to defend rural villages and towns. They often are deployed in tiny groups to man checkpoints in remote locations without radios or the ability to call in a quick reaction force if they come under attack. Some lack adequate training and the leadership that would enforce rules, such as wearing helmets and protective equipment.
"The Taliban sees that as easy prey," said Army Gen. John Campbell, the top coalition commander. "They're not using them the way they should."
Campbell said the coalition is working on ways to improve security and effectiveness of local police.
The casualties have not hurt morale, Ulumi said, since the government works to take care of injured police and their families. He also said Afghans are accustomed to fighting. "They were born in war, they grew up in war," he said. "They know what war is about."
To replace the loss of international military power, the coalition is helping Afghanistan build up its small air force by expanding the number of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and training pilots.
The Afghan air force now has only five Soviet-built Hind helicopters. It has begun to add guns to Mi-17 transport helicopters, which are not designed to provide close air support for ground troops.
More Hind helicopters and attack aircraft would help, said Lt. Col. Bakhtulla Bakhtiar, 53, a helicopter squadron commander. "We have lots of ground forces but we don't have enough helicopters."

Taliban Onslaught: What is Happening in Afghanistan?

This year’s fighting season in Afghanistan began with a vengeance. Last week, hundreds of Taliban fightersattacked army and police installations around the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The battle is still raging, with heavy casualties on both sides.
Two weeks prior to the offensive in Kunduz city an estimated 1,000 Taliban fighters overran Afghan army positions in Jurm District in Badakhshan Province. Additonally, heavy fighting has been reported in several other provinces, including Sar-i-Pul, Jowzjan and Faryab the New York Times reports.
To make matters worse, the Islamic State (IS) may be making headway into the country as illustrated by a recent suicide attack in Jalalabad on April 18, although the Afghan Analysts Network cautions that IS “has been prominent in Afghanistan largely on social media and in reports by the media and Afghan officials.”
The New York Times notes that the Taliban’s move against Kunduz is the cornerstone of his year’s Taliban spring offensive. Ever since the withdrawal of the German Bundeswehr in October 2013, the security situation has deteriorated in the province.
“This is the worst situation in Kunduz since 2002,” emphasized the province’s vice-governor Hamdullah Daneschi according to Bild Zeitung. “The Taliban have become stronger and they will conquer the entire province should our security forces not receive reinforcements from the capital.”
Muhammad Yousuf Ayoubi, the provincial council chief, reiterated the vice-governor’s deep concerns: “Kunduz city is surrounded from four directions. If the government does not pay urgent attention, there is serious risk of it falling to the Taliban.”
Large numbers of foreign fighters including Uzbek, Tajik, and Chechen militants have allegedly joined the assault against government forces in the province. “Many foreigners have joined local Taliban groups. They are especially brutal and have experience with attacks and the abduction of foreigners,” according to a village elder quoted in Bild am Sonntag.
A military base with 450 soldiers in Iman Sahib, a Northern district in Kunduz province, is currently under siege by Taliban militants and has to be re-supplied by Afghan army helicopters. However, during a press conference today in Kabul, Dawlat Waziri, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, stated that the Afghan Security Forces are strong enough to withstand the Taliban onslaught.
“No district or province will collapse and I assure you that security forces are capable enough to control the situation,” he noted while citing the launch of three Afghan military operations in Badakhshan, Ghazni, and Zabul provinces against insurgent forces.
As of now, the Afghan National Security Forces are not in need of NATO support the Afghan Ministry of Defense emphasized. “So far we have no need for Resolute Support Mission help,” Waziri said.
General Wilson Schoffner, deputy chief of staff of communications for the Afghan Resolute Support Mission confirmed this statement noting that the Kunduz crisis is under control: “They have strong and capable leadership in place and have a very good plan to deal with the situation.”
However, Reuters reported that U.S. fighter jets were dispatched to the region on a mission outside regular operations. “We can confirm there were U.S. jet aircraft flying in the Kunduz area in the past 72 hours, no munitions dropped,”said a U.S. military spokesman. One can assume that NATO and U.S. forces are monitoring the developing situation closely ready to intervene at a moment’s notice.
According to a report released by the office of John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) the United States and NATO have no clear idea how many Afghan soldiers and police are currently engaged in combating Taliban insurgent (see: “Pentagon Declassifies Information on Afghan Security Forces”).
“Neither the United States nor its Afghan allies truly know how many Afghan soldiers and police are available for duty or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities,” a newly released report by his office stated.
The United States has so far spent $60.7 billion to train, equip and pay 195,000 members of the Afghan army and 157,000 members of the police force. However, the number of troops and police is not reliable according to SIGAR. Despite recent setbacks, I am still standing by my assessment from the beginning of the year (see: “Can the Afghan Army Prevail on the Battlefield?”):
I am confident that the ANSF will be capable of prevailing on the battlefield against insurgents until 2017. It is important to understand that the insurgency is still very limited in its military capabilities and has been severely weakened by an aggressive coalition air campaign. The long term ANSF funding situation remains critical but is unlikely to change until 2017. ANSF will be able to control all major population centers and transit routes until then.
For an additional assessment on ANSF’s capabilities listen to our Podcast with Col. James L. Creighton (U.S. Army, Ret.) “Is Afghanistan Prepared for 2015 and Beyond”

Pakistan - Justice for Sabeen - Myth of a Republic

By Afrasiab Khattak

The hollowness of our republic is exposed on a daily basis, but the murder of the social activist and human rights defender, Sabeen Mehmood, on the evening of April 25 in Karachi, is the ultimate proof of it. Many Pakistanis have learnt the hard way that subjects like Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission Report, Inquiry into Kargil War, “Strategic Depth” in Afghanistan, Abbotabad Commission Report , “non-state” actors and the issue of enforced disappearances, among others, are taboo subjects, not be discussed by common  people. Recently a new theme has been added to the black list and that is unsilencing Balochistan.
Apparently, Sabeen Mehmood had crossed the “red line” by conducting a discussion on Balochistan with the participation of some Baloch nationalists in a small gathering at the facility created by her for providing a forum for discussing issues of public importance. It is public knowledge that recently a private university in Lahore was stopped from holding discussion on the aforementioned subject. It seems the country’s intelligentsia has no right to hold discussion about the fourth or fifth military operation in Balochistan (in response to alleged nationalist insurgencies) that may have an impact on the country’s future not very dissimilar to the one had by developments in the East Pakistan in 1971. That the elected civilian government remains a silent and powerless spectator during all this says it all about our “republic”. Justice for Sabeen now is the demand of every Pakistani and all of us should keep on pressing for it. The following analysis will provide some context, discuss the root cause and suggest reforms that can permanently stop the recurrence of such tragic incidents.
That our founding fathers wanted Pakistan to be a democratic republic is an established fact. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was educated in England and who practiced law in the courts of UK and British India, was a secular jurist and a liberal political thinker. His speech on August 11, 1948, before the Constituent Assembly, clearly underlined his vision of future Pakistan. His early demise, the domination of our polity by the colonial trained bureaucracy and feudal elites and the lack of a strong national liberation movement in the Punjab led to the derailment of the state from a democratic path. The dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly in 1954 was the first coup, but official history books will not reveal this fact to our younger generation. The civil bureaucracy, under the leadership of Ghulam Mohammad, led the said coup but the military was also part of it. The then Commander-In-Chief General Ayub Khan became Defense Minister in the new government. The middle class dominated East Pakistan with majority population they were also being the bastion of popular movement for the creation of Pakistan. They were a hurdle for the institutionalized usurpation of political power by bureaucracy. So the 1956 Constitution clipped its wings by creating One Unit in West Pakistan to counter the population strength of East Pakistan although the ratio still remained 54 & 46 percent. The 1956 Constitution also introduced the principle of parity, which provided for 50 percent representation in the National Assembly for each of the two provinces in the “greater national interest”, thus disenfranchising 4 percent of the population of the Eastern Wing. In any case, after clamping martial law on the country in October 1958, the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan gave up every pretension of the country being a republic and went on to impose a system of controlled democracy.
After the political and military debacle in East Pakistan the ruling bureaucratic elite were in political retreat. It was in this interval that the elected political leadership could frame and promulgate the 1973 Constitution, making the country in theory a federal parliamentary democratic republic. But this “political ambush” by the elected politicians failed to change the real balance of forces within the state system. That’s why there were two failed coup attempts against the government of Z A Bhutto, and the third one led by General Zia-ul-Haq succeeded in overthrowing the civilian government.  Zia’s dictatorship not only deformed the Constitution but also sowed the seed of religious extremism and terrorism.
The post Zia “republic” with multiple power centers was weaker than the Weimar Republic of pre-Nazi Germany. General Musharraf then reinforced what Zia started in terms of imposing a system of controlled democracy. Article 6 of the Constitution could not be implemented and military dictators could not be made accountable by the weak civilian system. Successive political governments had a partial or weak control over policy making and resource allocation. The first National Assembly that could complete its constitutional term in the entire history of the country was the one elected in 2008. Every other one was dissolved through unconstitutional machinations by the powerful establishment.
The purpose here is not to absolve civilian governments of their responsibility for the blunders they have been committing. Many of them have mismanaged their rule, missed opportunities and lost credibility. But most of them have been held accountable by courts as well as by the people in elections, and rightly so. How can the challenge of good governance be met without first deciding the question as to who will really rule the country? If the historical record of the country is any thing to go by, it is pretty clear that there were no reluctant coup makers. They were actually waiting in the wings. Zia and Musharraf’s martial laws mutilated the 1973 Constitution beyond recognition. The Charter of Democracy signed between PPP & PML-N in 2006 led to the 18th Constitutional Amendment cleansing the Constitution of many dictatorial deformations to some extent. But much more is required to be done to change the balance of forces in the state system. The non-elected part of the state is too autonomous to be following the lead of the parliament or the elected government.
Political parties of the country need to agree on a new Charter of Democracy to establish a genuine republic in the country. For the political parties to be credible and convincing the new charter has to start with a commitment to reforms within political parties first. For example, political parties should agree on a legal mechanism for holding transparent intra-party elections. The parliamentarians should not receive government funds for development as it breeds corruption. Stringent laws for stopping patronage and promoting meritocracy is the need of the hour. Political leadership needs moral authority and not just law to call the shots in governance. Elections for local government on regular intervals, as enshrined in the Constitution, must be ensured. After this the elected representatives should ensure civilian supremacy on policymaking and resource allocation, according to constitutional provisions. The “deep state” can then be brought within the ambit of the law of the land and stopped from functioning as a state with in the state. It has happened in countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey and many Latin American countries. It can and it should happen in Pakistan, as it is the only path leading to peaceful unity and development.

Middle East - Stumbling Into a Wider War

It should come as no surprise that the United States and its coalition partners are discussing widening the war against the Islamic State beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria. Wider wars have become almost habitual in recent years, as military conflicts have expanded with little public awareness or debate. President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” began in Afghanistan, then moved to Iraq and elsewhere. Fourteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Obama is still deploying American troops and weapons to fight Al Qaeda and other extremists in far-flung parts of the world, including Pakistan.
The fight against the Islamic State has focused largely on Iraq and Syria, where the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has seized large swaths of land and established a firm presence. But some regional members of the anti-ISIS coalition of more than 60 nations, according to a report in The Times, are now pressing the administration to carry the fight to other terrorist groups that have declared themselves “provinces” of the Islamic State.
In theory, that could involve the United States and the coalition in Libya, where ISIS has sent a small number of fighters to help organize militants. It could also mean moving against Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an ISIS-supported terrorist group in the Sinai Peninsula that greatly worries Egypt. Intelligence officials estimate that ISIS may have as many as 31,500 fighters in Syria and Iraq; at least a couple of hundred other extremists in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other countries have also made less formal pledges of support for ISIS.
It is essential that further expansion of the campaign against ISIS and other militant groups be debated rigorously and openly by Washington and its coalition partners. For one thing, it is dangerous and unwise to assume that “affiliates” pledging support for ISIS are controlled by ISIS, share its resources or can duplicate its ruthless skills. Many cannot do so, and the coalition would make a serious mistake if it treated all splinter groups as the same kind of threat.
In any case, the problem is far more complicated than just going after ISIS and its affiliates. There are many threats ravaging and destabilizing the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, including not only extremistists (some allied with ISIS, many not) but also stubborn, long-standing sectarian conflicts and, in some failed states like Yemen and Libya, the near-total collapse of governmental authority and civil order. That makes finding a coherent and effective strategy — or more likely strategies — to deal with these challenges much harder.
What is manifestly clear is that while America can and should play a leading role, the main responsibility for confronting extremist groups and ending sectarian wars lies with countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. That will require them to put aside enmities, cooperate and take on more of the fight. It will also require many of them to make reforms at home, where radical ideology and repressive governance foster extremism.
A Pentagon official played down the possibility of an expanded war. But the fact that it is under discussion should be of more than passing interest to a public grown tired of war. The spread of extremism will be the focus of several meetings in the next few months, including a summit meeting of Arab leaders called by President Obama for this month and a meeting of coalition military commanders to be convened by the United States Central Command.
In some ways, Mr. Obama has sought to limit the American role in the anti-ISIS fight by ruling out ground troops and, at first, limiting military involvement in Iraq to air strikes and keeping force levels down, just enough to provide intelligence and to help train and advise Iraqi units. But he has since increased troop levels in Iraq and expanded air strikes into Syria. He also recently asked Congress to approve legislation that would give him, and his successors, what appears to be an open-ended mandate to wage war against ISIS and “associated persons or forces.”
It is long past time for Congress to set firm parameters so America does not stumble blindly into another morass. Sadly, even as the administration contemplates broader engagement, Congress remains unable or unwilling to confront the issue.

Robert Fisk: Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

By Robert Fisk

Let me try to get this right. The Saudis are bombing Yemen because they fear the Shia Houthis are working for the Iranians. The Saudis are also bombing Isis in Iraq and the Isis in Syria. So are the United Arab Emirates. The Syrian government is bombing its enemies in Syria and the Iraqi government is also bombing its enemies in Iraq. America, France, Britain, Denmark, Holland, Australia and – believe it or not – Canada are bombing Isis in Syria and Isis in Iraq, partly on behalf of the Iraqi government (for which read Shia militias) but absolutely not on behalf of the Syrian government.
The Jordanians and Saudis and Bahrainis are also bombing Isis in Syria and Iraq because they don’t like them, but the Jordanians are bombing Isis even more than the Saudis after their pilot-prisoner was burned to death in a cage. The Egyptians are bombing parts of Libya because a group of Christian Egyptians had their heads chopped off by what might – notionally – be the same so-called Islamic State, as Isis refers to itself. The Iranians have acknowledged bombing Isis in Iraq – of which the Americans (but not the Iraqi government) take a rather dim view. And of course the Israelis have several times bombed Syrian government forces in Syria but not Isis (an interesting choice, we’d all agree). Chocks away!
It amazes me that all these warriors of the air don’t regularly crash into each other as they go on bombing and bombing. And since Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines is the only international carrier still flying over Syria – but not, thank heavens, over Isis’s Syrian capital of Raqqa – I’m even more amazed that my flights from Beirut to the Gulf have gone untouched by the blitz boys of so many Arab and Western states as they career around the skies of Mesopotamia and the Levant.
The sectarian and theological nature of this war seems perfectly clear to all who live in the Middle East – albeit not to our American chums. The Sunni Saudis are bombing the Shia Yemenis and the Shia Iranians are bombing the Sunni Iraqis. The Sunni Egyptians are bombing Sunni Libyans, it’s true, and the Jordanian Sunnis are bombing Iraqi Sunnis. But the Shia-supported Syrian government forces are bombing their Sunni Syrian enemies and the Lebanese Hezbollah – Shia to a man – are fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Sunni enemies, along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an ever-larger number of Afghan Shia men in Syrian uniforms.
Over the past three days, by the way, Hezbollah members in Lebanon have been told to stand by to return to Syria in the next two weeks to fight a great battle in the Qalamoun hills – across the north-east border of Lebanon – lest Isis tries to push into Lebanon itself and cut Hezbollah’s supply line from Hermel to Baalbek and southern Lebanon.
And if you want to taste the sectarianism of all this, just take a look at Saudi Arabia’s latest request to send more Pakistani troops to protect the kingdom (and possibly help to invade Yemen), which came from the new Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman who at only 34 is not much older than his fighter pilots. But the Saudis added an outrageous second request: that the Pakistanis send only Sunni Muslim soldiers. Pakistani Shia Muslim officers and men (30 per cent of the Pakistani armed forces) would not be welcome.
It’s best left to that fine Pakistani newspaper The Nation – and the writer Khalid Muhammad – to respond to this sectarian demand. “The army and the population of Pakistan are united for the first time in many years to eliminate the scourge of terrorism,” Muhammad writes. But “the Saudis are now trying to not only divide the population, but divide our army as well. When a soldier puts on a uniform, he fights for the country that he calls home, not the religious beliefs that they carry individually… Do they (the Saudis) believe that a professional military like Pakistan… can’t fight for a unified justified cause? If that is the case then why ask Pakistan to send its armed forces?”
It’s worth remembering that Pakistani soldiers were killed by the Iraqi army in the battle for the Saudi town of Khafji in 1991. Were they all Sunnis, I wonder? And then, of course, there are the really big winners in all this blood, the weapons manufacturers. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin supplied £1.3bn of missiles to the Saudis only last year. But three years ago, Der Spiegel claimed the European Union was Saudi Arabia’s most important arms supplier and last week France announced the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets to Qatar at a cost of around £5.7bn. Egypt has just bought another 24 Rafales.
It’s worth remembering at this point that the Congressional Research Services in the US estimate that most of Isis’s budget comes from “private donors” in – you guessed it – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait.
But blow me down if the Yanks are back to boasting. More than a decade after “Mission Accomplished”, General Paul Funk (in charge of reforming the Iraqi army) has told us that “the enemy is on its knees”. Another general close to Barack Obama says that half of the senior commanders in Isis have been liquidated. Nonsense. But it’s worth knowing just how General Pierre de Villiers, chief of the French defence staff, summed up his recent visits to Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraq, he reported back to Paris, is in a state of “total decay”. The French word he used was “decomposition”. I suspect that applies to most of the Middle East.

Saudi fighter jets keep pounding cities across Yemen

Saudi warplanes have resumed the bombing of Yemen, targeting strategic cities in the impoverished Arab country.
According to media reports on Sunday, the fighter jets carried out three sorties on the port city of al-Hudaydah and pounded an air defense base there six times.
The Saudi warplanes also pounded the building housing the governor's office in the port city of Crater in the Aden Governorate, and bombed several positions at Aden's international airport.
There has been no immediate report on the number of casualties or the size of material damage in the Yemeni cities.
A Yemeni man searches for survivors under the rubble in houses destroyed by an overnight Saudi airstrike on a residential area in the port city of Aden's Dar Saad suburb, May 2, 2015. ©AFP
The Saudi fighter jets also bombarded the northern Yemeni city of Sa’ada, injuring three people there.
Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26 - without a UN mandate - in a bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and to restore power to the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a staunch ally of Riyadh.
On April 21, Riyadh announced the end of the first phase of its unlawful military operation, but airstrikes have continued with Saudi bombers targeting different areas across the country in a new phase.
On Friday, the World Health Organization said 1,244 Yemenis lost their lives and 5,044 others were injured from March 19 to April 27. Hundreds of women and children are among the victims, according to the WHO.

Report: Saudi Arabia used U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen

By Ben Brumfield and Slma Shelbayah

Human Rights Watch has accused Saudi Arabia of dropping U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in the fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The small bombs, if unexploded, can lay dormant and then detonate when people stumble upon one by chance, killing or maiming them as a result.

An international treaty against cluster bombs has been adopted by 116 countries, but the United States, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are not among them.
The particular cluster munition systems HRW said were used are CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, which are guided bombs intended to take out tanks and other armored vehicles with a flurry of explosions spread out over an area.
If the cluster bombs fail to detect their target, they are designed to self-destruct in the air, or if that fails, to deactivate themselves after a short time. But sometimes those mechanisms don't work, posing a lethal danger for those who later encounter them.
Saudi Arabia has denied there are any coalition forces in Yemen and says there are only Yemeni forces that Saudi Arabia is supporting, according to Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a Saudi military spokesman. He told CNN Saudi Arabia has been using CBU-105 in Yemen against armored vehicles and not in the city.
    "There is no foreign fighters in Yemen, so far," Asiri told CNN on Sunday.
    Asiri also criticized the Human Rights Watch organization on how it obtains information, saying it is getting it from Houthi militia.
    "The (HRW) report itself defines the 105 as anti-vehicle weapons. We do not use it against persons. We don't have any operation in the cities. So the allegation which is in the report it is, I think it is not so solid."
    CNN tried to contact officials in Washington for comment on the HRW report allegations but there was no immediate response.
    Human Rights Watch included video, marked-up satellite maps and photos in its report.
    The video shows delivery devices falling from the sky by small parachutes then deploying its bombs with a burst of black smoke in midair. Shallow explosions spread over areas on the ground below. The images were shot by pro-Houthis in April, HRW said.
    Photos show working parts of the deployment system on the ground.
    The U.S. Department of Defense has said it will stop the transfer to foreign governments of cluster munitions that leave behind more than 1% of their bombs unexploded -- but not until after 2018.
    "Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger," Steve Goose, the director of HRW's arms division, said in a statement. "These weapons should never be used under any circumstances."
    The human rights activists say the cluster munitions were dropped over northern Saada governorate, a Houthi rebel stronghold near Saudi Arabia. The satellite map shows the target area in the mountains above the villages of al-Ssam and al-Safraa.
    About 5,000 people live in al-Safraa in times of peace, HRW said.
    The Houthis are Shiite Muslims aligned with Iran who have long clashed with Yemen's central government. Over the past seven months, they have overrun Yemen's capital, ousted its President and seized control of other parts of the country well beyond their northern power base.
    Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni country that has viewed the Houthis' rise with alarm, fearing that unrest in Yemen could spread across their border or lead to bitter rival Iran establishing a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.
    The overthrown Yemeni government, whose President is now in exile, was allied with the West in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Houthis are also foes of AQAP, which has sought to take advantage of the deepening chaos in Yemen.

    Video - Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen with US-supplied cluster bombs – HRW


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    Afghanistan - Arabic-speaking man arrested on second day of “Farkhunda Case trial”

    Preliminary court ordered the arrest of an Arabic-speaking man in the second session of Farkhunda Case trial.
    The Arabic-speaking man was arrested at the day Farkhunda was being lynched but he was later released.
    In yesterday’s session, new information popped up. A security officer who was among the suspects arrested replied to a question of the judge that he does not have authority. He said he arrested an Arabic-speaking person on the day of the incident but his officers released him.
    The judge then summoned Kabul police chief and some other high ranking security officers to clarify the situation.
    In today’s session Kabul police chief presented the Arabic-speaking man who was arrested and later released.
    The Arabic-speaking man identified himself as Wahab. He said his deceased parents were from Zabul province but he rose in Saudi Arabia.
    The documents he was carrying were incomplete and seemed suspicious to the judge. At the end of the session Judge ordered the arrest of the Arabic-speaking man and an investigation to find out full information about him.
    The trial of the 49 suspects arrested in the case will resume tomorrow.
    Farkhunda, a helpless Afghan girl was brutally beaten to death by angry mob, her body was then run over by a car and set ablaze during day light in capital Kabul last month.
    She was wrongfully accused of burning a copy of the holy Quran but the allegation was proven baseless after an investigation conducted by the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs.

    Balochistan And The Silencing Of Sabeen Mahmud


    Sabeen Mahmud, a social and human rights activist, was shot and killed in Karachi on 24 April. She was killed a few hours after hosting a discussion about the "disappeared people" of Balochistan. Her murder was meant as a warning to people daring to discuss the province. However, the history of Balochistan is a signal that it will not be silenced.
    To understand why Sabeen Mahmud was killed, it is important to understand Balochistan. This is not a simple task. For one, there is an extreme paucity of honest, detailed, and consistent explanation about the politics, the diversity, the culture and the history of the place in the regular news cycle. Two, very little of what is said in the popular media within Pakistan can be trusted. News about the people, their actions, the situation on the ground, are all being clamped down upon, journalists are threatened into submission and the reportage is vividly coloured by what the ISI, the military and government choose to disclose. That being said, where regular media has failed, social media has proved to be extremely resourceful (and defiant) in piecing together the chaos and violence in the province.
    The murder of Sabeen Mahmud follows almost a decade of extreme violence and political and social turbulence in Balochistan. The resource-rich province, lying on the southwest corner of Pakistan bordering Iran, serves as a palette for various forces to paint their stories.
    First, one of the biggest threats to a peaceful Balochistan has been the complete and unscrupulous appropriation of its immense natural resources by the many governments and dictators of Pakistan. The negligible amount of compensation given to the Balochis, combined with the sidelining of their complaints and the dearth of any human resource development in the region has added up over the years.
    Second, there are competing movements fighting for complete independence or greater autonomy for Balochistan.
    Third, the movements, regardless of political leanings, have been targeted by the frontier corps, the military and the government in various ways including mass abduction, kill and dump policies, arrests and incarceration without trial or reason. The Voice of Missing Baloch Persons (VMBP) organization led by Mama Qadeer has been seeking justice for these missing people.
    Fourth, the government under the aegis of Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in propagating more traditional forms of Islam, resulting in greater divisions along sectarian lines in what was once a diversely populated province. The sectarian crisis is being fanned by border conflicts with Iran. Iran has very little tolerance for the Sunni Balochs living in Sistan-Baluchistan (Iran), and the Pakistan government turns a blind eye to the Shia genocide. The resulting tension has impacted politics within Balochistan
    Fifth, the separatist movements that pit themselves against the Pakistan government have also been solicited by terrorist outfits operating around the Khyber-Pukhtunkhawa regions and across the border in Afghanistan. The Zarb-e-Azb operation by Pakistan in the northwest has resulted in many of the terrorists escaping to Afghanistan and/or finding refuge in Balochistan.
    Sixth, the militant wing of government-approved outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba has been at the forefront of instigating the ongoing genocide against Shia Muslims.
    All these problems have come sharply into focus in various ways since the beginning of this year.
    " Sabeen Mahmud's murder is at once singularly symbolic and a sum of all the actions against a beleaguered people... It will prove to be much more difficult to silence an entire province now."
    Pakistan doesn't view the Baloch separatist or independence movements very kindly and has labelled many of them as terrorist outfits. The greater authority given to the military courts and the hurried sentencing of alleged terrorists, without proper trials, has struck fear in the province. There have also been bigger, more public attacks on minorities and minority institutions in the province since January 2015.
    Over the last two months, a series of events internally and externally has created a tinderbox situation with far-reaching consequences for the people of Balochistan.
    The extension of the Zarb-e-Azb operations into Balochistan under the aegis of a brutal military which is not under the control of any civilian government or answerable to civil society has begun. The military has shown itself to be incapable of or not willing to differentiate between terrorists targeting the state and a people who are fighting the terrors unleashed by the state.
    Repression by the state will guarantee an equally violent reaction from those who are fighting for their land, rights and families. A vicious circle of violence and counter-violence will ultimately suck in vested groups to fish in troubled waters. The Turbat incident, where 20 laborers from other provinces were killed by separatists in a region of Balochistan, is just one indication of this.
    The surrendering of land and resources to a foreign power by people who do not belong to Balochistan will also cause resentment against the rest of Pakistan as well as the foreign power. If the economic corridor agreement between China and Pakistandoes not address the concerns of the Balochis or involve them in the process will only increase the grievances of the people in the province. This coupled with the stationing of 10,000 additional troops to protect the workers will increase tensions in Balochistan.
    Sabeen Mahmud's murder is at once singularly symbolic and a sum of all the actions against a beleaguered people. Her initiation of and presence at the discussion "Unsilencing Balochistan", was the sole reason for her death. It will prove to be much more difficult to silence an entire province now.