Saturday, November 14, 2015

Video - Politics This Week: Clinton Strong, GOP in Flux

Video - Pro-Russian supporters rally in Syrian port city of Tartus

Video - Mourners lay flowers and wine outside French embassy in D.C.

Democrats Return to Hillary Clinton

Heading into the second Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton seems to be winning her party back.
Polls taken in the last two weeks show Clinton widening her lead over Bernie Sanders, as she’s used sterling performances in the first Democratic debate and amarathon session before Congress to blunt the momentum Sanders had seized over the summer. When the two meet Saturday night in Iowa, the pressure this time will be on Sanders: Can he sharpen his contrast with Clinton without veering into the kind of negative attacks that he repeatedly promised to avoid?
Clinton has benefitted from a number of developments in the last month—and not all of them her own doing. Vice President Joe Biden’s decision not to seek the nomination deprived establishment-minded Democrats of another alternative to the former secretary of state. And the dubious choice of House Republicans on the Benghazi committee to have her testify for 11 hours—while harping on emails from Sidney Blumenthal—played to her advantage by allowing her campaign to portray her appearance as one of resilience and grace under fire rather than the long overdue reckoning for a dithering diplomat.

Still, Clinton deserves some of the credit. Her campaign was understandably mocked when it informed The New York Times that Clinton would suddenly become more spontaneous, warm, and funny. But the plan seems to have been executed well. Her appearances on late-night talk shows have been filled with smiles and not-too-cringe-worthy jokes, and despite getting lower ratings, Clinton’s cameo on Saturday Night Live won stronger reviews than did Donald Trump's recent hosting gig. When Clinton has stumbled, such as when shelaughed in response to a man saying he wanted to “strangle” Carly Fiorina, it has been overshadowed by news from the increasingly bizarre race on the Republican side. On the whole, a more joyful Clinton has replaced the halting, defensive candidate of the spring and early summer.
Sanders, meanwhile, has been hemmed in by his own tactical decisions. His dismissal of Republican attacks on Clinton’s email use in the State Department won cheers from Democrats in both camps, but his subsequent avowal that the ongoing FBI investigation was legitimate sounded like a belated attempt to take it back. And Sanders has an even narrower line to walk as he tries to take a more aggressive posture toward Clinton. The media tends to make little distinction between “drawing a contrast” and “attacking,” so when Sanders made some implicit criticisms of Clinton’s record at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, the Clinton camp immediately accused him of ditching his pledge against negative campaigning. It’s easy to imagine Clinton having ready a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reply for any sharp words that Sanders directs her way in Saturday’s debate.
All of this might explain Clinton’s stronger position in the polls. A national survey by the Times and CBS News released on Thursday found that Clinton not only held support from a majority of Democratic voters—52 percent to 33 percent for Sanders—but she was seen as the candidate most likely to bring “real change” to Washington. That latter finding strikes at the core of Sanders’s message that a “revolution” is needed to root out corruption from the political system and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. While Democrats found Sanders to be more genuine than Clinton, she inspired more confidence in regulating big banks and financial institutions—another key aspect of his platform.
Those results could also reflect the fact that Clinton has narrowed the gap in policy with Sanders by embracing calls for debt-free college, get-tough policies on Wall Street, and more aggressive action on immigration, gun control, and criminal-justice reform. Her platform has quieted criticism from some progressive activists who have pushed leading Democrats to adopt an “Elizabeth Warren-style” agenda. “Generally speaking, there’s not a big debate about which direction the Democratic Party should go,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “All candidates are advocating for a more economic populist Democratic Party. The debate has been how big to go and how exactly to get there.”
Democratic voters may see Clinton’s platform as more realistic than the more expensive agenda Sanders is proposing, or simply that she is the more viable candidate to achieve it. In explaining Clinton’s growing lead, Green suggested that the onus was on Sanders to explain the reasoning behind his vision in a way that inspires Democrats to come out and vote. “There are two very different governing visions between Clinton and Sanders that really have not been fully fleshed out for voters,” Green said. “Given her background and frontrunner status, the tie basically goes to Clinton.”
The focus of Saturday’s debate, which will air on CBS at 9 p.m. ET, will understandably shift more toward foreign policy and national security in the wake of the coordinated attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people. “There is no question that the emphasis changes dramatically,” Steve Capus, the executive editor of CBS News, told the Times late Friday. Both Clinton and Sanders released statements of solidarity with France. They will likely face questions of whether they would expand President Obama’s war against the Islamic State and whether the Paris attacks should give the U.S. pause about taking in refugees fleeing Syria.

The debate also offers another chance for Martin O’Malley, who continues to struggle to make himself a legitimate threat to either Clinton or Sanders. He’ll at least get more speaking time without competition from Jim Webb or Lincoln Chafee, who dropped out after shaky performances in the first debate. (That opportunity might be limited more by the fact that the debate was scheduled for a Saturday night, a source of frustration for many Democrats.)
For Sanders, the challenge of stopping Clinton’s surge is clear, and reports suggest the famously unpolished candidate is preparing more for this contest than than he did for the first one. Clinton’s strategy is more of a mystery. While she has consolidated her frontrunner status in the primary, the same polls show that more voters overall view her unfavorably. Will she take on Sanders as she did in October, or will she focus her attacks on the Republicans she hopes to face a year from now? The choice Clinton makes will show just how comfortable she with the solid footing she’s regained.

How Turkey’s Islamist gov’t helped al-Qaeda and ISIL

More evidence is emerging that implicates senior officials in Turkey's political Islamist government of aiding and abetting radical groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), presenting the risk of the NATO-ally country earning a reputation of being a state that sponsors terrorism.
The testimony of the former head of the police counterterrorism unit in Van province, Serdar Bayraktutan, includes chilling revelations of how senior officials in the Turkish government protected senior al-Qaeda figures operating in Turkey who were running a network of militants to fight in Syria. Bayraktutan was the lead investigator in the sweeping operations that nabbed al-Qaeda suspects in six provinces on Jan. 14, 2014, in compliance with the Van Chief Public Prosecutor's Office and court-ordered arrest warrants. The political Islamist government stepped in to remove him from his post, placed him in jail on trumped up charges to hush him up and derailed the critical investigation.
He is nonetheless speaking out from his cell, spilling the dirt on how Islamists buried themselves neck-deep with radical groups in the fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime. According to the account provided by former Prosecutor Gültekin Avcı, who interviewed Bayraktutan in jail, one cannot help but wonder why then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates provided a safe haven to terrorists in the name of what is propagated as a holy war. The government has been completely silent since Avcı published Bayraktutan's statements in several of his op-ed pieces in the independent Bugün daily last month.
Prosecutors gave the operation the green light in January 2014 when vital intelligence information was obtained that indicated there were clear and imminent threats from al-Qaeda militants. Five separate investigations into al-Qaeda networks in various provinces were merged into one. The dawn raids by police and gendarmerie units resulted in the detention of 25 people, including alleged senior members of al-Qaeda. Two senior al-Qaeda operatives -- İbrahim Şen (listed as Ibrahim Shafir Shen in the US Department of Defense file), allegedly a top al-Qaeda leader in the Middle East and a former prisoner in Guantanamo Bay prison, and Halis Bayancuk (also known as Abu Hanzala), who is said to be in charge of the al-Qaeda network in Turkey -- were among those detained in the operation. Most detainees, including Bayancuk, were released last year and no indictment has ever been filed against these suspects since then.
Bayraktutan said that while law enforcement officials were rounding up suspects on the day the prosecutor issued the arrest warrants, he received a call from the Van province police chief who conveyed instructions from Van Governor Nezih Doğan and National Police Department Chief Mehmet Kılıçlar, ordering the police to stop the operations or face immediate dismissals. Bayraktutan then called the deputy public prosecutor and relayed the instructions that had been conveyed by the government officials. The prosecutor balked at the suggestion, saying that this was a judicial process and that the executive branch could not interfere in the investigation. The prosecutor also asked Bayraktutan to write a report and put the government intervention into the official record, possibly to file criminal charges against government officials for illegally intervening in a judicial investigation.
When the Erdoğan government realized that the investigators and prosecutors did not yield to the political pressure to end the operations and instead moved ahead with the detention orders, then-Interior Minister Efkan Ala authorized the police department's special forces unit to detain the anti-terrorism investigators who were serving the court's arrest warrants for al-Qaeda suspects. By mere fate, by the time the special forces were deployed on Ala's illegal order, the anti-terrorism teams had concluded their work and were returning to their base with the suspects in custody. They passed each other on the way, preventing a possible serious confrontation between the two branches of the police department. This means that Ala and other government officials committed a series of crimes, from aiding and abetting a terrorist group to issuing illegal orders and abusing their position of authority.
Bayraktutan was removed from his post by the governor and reassigned the same day, even before the processing of the detained al-Qaeda suspects was completed. All other investigators, including 11 senior officers who were involved in the al-Qaeda operation, were also removed at a later date. Bayraktutan says the investigation revealed that the suspects had been moving in and out of Syria to join ISIL. He also explained that they maintained military training camps on Syrian territory, exploiting the absence of any authority in the northern provinces, and shuttled young Turks from various provinces to Syria for military training in al-Qaeda camps, later dispatching some of those who had been trained back to Turkey to set up al-Qaeda cells.
The investigation file reveals hair-raising details on the mentality of this militant group. In court-authorized surveillance records, al-Qaeda suspects talked about the existence of some 3,000 al-Qaeda militants in Turkey, describing them as “true Muslims” and the rest as “infidels” whose lives, assets and wives were merely plunder in battle. There were conversations that included plans to plant explosives along the roads that would be used by US president Barack Obama during his expected visit to Turkey and the staging of simultaneous suicide bomb attacks in 70 provinces across Turkey.
The surveillance also discovered that al-Qaeda was behind the kidnapping of the Milliyet daily's Turkish photojournalist Bünyamin Aygün, who was held captive in Syria for 40 days in 2014. The suspects said that he was not to be released without receiving ransom money and several suspects also said that after Syria, the jihadist fighters would turn their attention to Turkey and reconquer İstanbul.
Among the detainees was Mevlüt Kuşman, who worked closely with Chechen citizen Magomed Abdurrahmanov (also known as Abu Banat), an ISIL operative who had carried out the executions of Turkish-Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan bishop Pavlus Yazici and Turkish-Assyrian Metropolitan bishop Yohanna Ibrahim in Syria. Abdurrahmanov and two other suspects were arrested by Turkish security units in the central province of Konya in July 2013 but what happened to them remains unclear. It has been rumored that they were handed over to ISIL in exchange for the Turkish hostages seized by the terrorist group in the Mosul consulate last year.
The pro-government Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) was not the target of this al-Qaeda investigation per se but İbrahim Halil İlgi, an employee of the İHH on the border province Kilis was identified as supplying material to al-Qaeda camps in Syria under the cover of the charity group. The police raided both İHH offices and İlgi's residence in Kilis when executing the prosecutor's search and arrest warrant. Just like Bayraktutan, Kilis Police Department's Counterterrorism Unit Chief Devlet Çıngı, was then also dismissed from his post the same day.
Bayraktatutan has an impeccable record as one of the leading police chiefs who worked on terrorism cases for 18 years. He graduated from police academy in fourth place out of 1,500 students. He has 47 merit citations, 33 certificates of accomplishment and 11 high achievement awards. His impeccable record earned him a career credit of 99.5 points out of 100 and therefore his words carry weight, even when he has been put behind bars by Islamists attempting to cover up their tracks in aiding radical groups in Turkey and abroad.
A couple of suspects acknowledged during their depositions in the prosecutor's office that they had received support from the Turkish government. Perhaps that was the reason why the government wanted to hush-up the al-Qaeda investigation and thwarted prosecutors from filing formal charges and indictments. The mounting evidence implicating senior officials in the Turkish government as cohorts of extremist and militant groups prompted the government to engage in revenge operations against investigators who were able to make connections and reveal the government's involvement. Erdoğan blurted out a great hoax called the “parallel structure” to discredit investigations and blamed everything on this catch-all phrase in order to avoid being implicated. Yet the illusion was short-lived and the facts are now catching up with him.

Video - Syria's Assad agrees to join negotiations - Kerry

Video - USA, United Nations and Russia Announce Syria Transition plan in Vienna

Paris Attacks Could Bolster Hillary Clinton’s Support, Focus Group Indicates

The Paris terrorist attacks, raising questions about American leadership in the world and national security, will most likely bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strengths in Saturday’s debate, according to a focus group of undecided Iowa Democrats.
Of 31 participants in the group, which gathered on Friday after news of the attacks broke, 26 saw Mrs. Clinton as a stronger potential commander in chief than Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “They see her as tough and possessing the right experience,” Chris Kofinis, a Democratic consultant who moderated the focus group, wrote in a memo. “It is fair to say that Sanders was extremely vulnerable on this issue before Paris, and that is even truer now.”
Mr. Kofinis convened the group of young Iowans, aged 18 to 35, which was not sponsored by any candidate or group, in Des Moines, where the debate is taking place. CBS News, the debate sponsor, plans to focus significantly on the implications of the attacks.
The focus group did reveal a potential strength for Mr. Sanders, who trails Mrs. Clinton by double digits in recent Iowa polls: Every one of the participants said Mr. Sanders had a “stronger message.” But the problem for him is that Mrs. Clinton, a former secretary of state, was considered far more electable, by a margin of 27 to 4.
“If someone said to me, ‘You have a message that is so powerful it’s resounding to that level, but you can’t move people over to your side,’ I would have said, ‘You’re kidding,'” Mr. Kofinis said. “It tells you how big a problem electability is for him.”
“Sanders’s challenge was already going to be significant going into the debate,” he continued, “but now he has to hit the electability and commander in chief issue, which is really difficult.”
The candidacy of former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who will also be on stage, is “almost over,” Mr. Kofinis said. The focus group found him nearly invisible in the race.

The historic meeting of China and Taiwan, seen through Russian eyes

Russian diplomacy supports a peaceful resolution of the “Taiwan Problem,” a process of open dialogue that respects both the territorial integrity of China and the interests of Taiwan’s citizens.

The meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan, which took place on Nov. 7 in Singapore, undoubtedly became one of the most important international events of 2015.

It is interesting that the very fact of the scheduled meeting between the President of China, Xi Jinping, and the President of Taiwan (formally calling itself the Republic of China), Ma Ying-jeou, had been kept secret until the very last moment. Moreover, it took place in one of Singapore’s luxury hotels, under very tight security conditions.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, left, leave a room where they met and shook hands in front of members of the media at the Shangri-la Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Singapore. The two leaders shook hands at the start of a historic meeting, marking the first top level contact between the formerly bitter Cold War foes since they split amid civil war 66 years ago. Photo: AP
Perhaps some journalists, expecting that during this visit the two leaders would be defending a common Chinese heritage, were disappointed: no formal conceptual agreements or contracts were reached or concluded during this rendezvous in Singapore. Nevertheless, the talks between the leaders of China and Taiwan can definitely be considered as a significant event. With no exaggeration, this event can even be called an “historic meeting.”
This is not only because the leaders of the ruling Communist Party in China and Taiwan Kuomintang Nationalist Party met for the first time and shook hands. This was the first such meeting, not only since the partition of China (1949), but also since 1945!
This meeting between Xi and Ma has unequivocally confirmed that the two sides, as they say in Beijing, are in favor of having “one China, but each has their own interpretation of what this entails.”
Chinese President Xi said after the meeting that, “The two sides of the strait form the same single family, which no power in the world can divide.”
His colleague from Taipei, acknowledged that, “History has left us with unresolved conflicts,” and urged his partner to respect the ​​lifestyle values of each other. Going to this meeting, Ma Ying-jeou, on the one hand, achieved positive international PR, and on the other hand – confirmed loyalty to his party’s idea of ​​a unified China.
This seems all the more important seeing that general elections will be held in Taiwan in January, and at the moment, the front-runner, according to the polls, is the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), many of whose supporters dream about a fully independent Taiwanese state.
However, according to well-known Asian affairs expert Jacob Berger, even if the DPP does come to power in Taiwan, its leadership “will not demand immediate independence, and will continue the line pursued by the Kuomintang Party – to achieve normal relations with China.”

The new spirit of détente in Asia-Pacific

For years, the geopolitical and geo-economic situation in the vast East Asian Region has remained unstable. Here we can mention the acute situation on the Korean peninsula, where both sides regularly rattle their sabers while threatening war against each other.
Obviously, not contributing to the pacification of the Asia-Pacific Region is the absence of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, the occasionally escalating territorial disputes between China and Japan, and the mass of disputed territorial waters in the area of ​​the South China Sea.
Of course, all of these unresolved issues remain important to this day. Nevertheless, it is also important to note, that this Singapore meeting between the leaders of the “two Chinas” has taken place against the background of a refreshing new spirit of détente in East Asia.
And the reason behind this, most believe, is first of all the economy. This need for stable bilateral economic partnerships explains the active diplomatic work undertaken in the organization of the Russian president’s visit to Japan.
It was concern for the economy that led to the launching of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, initiated by Washington, while foreign economic causes contributed to the convening of a tripartite summit a month ago between China, South Korea, and Japan.
However, if we take a closer look, the relations between Mainland China and Taiwan are also dominated by economic aspects. The mutual trade turnover of the “two Chinas” is nearly $200 billion annually. Since 2010, customs tariffs have been gradually reduced or abolished. Recently, Taiwanese firms were given permission to carry out lending operations to Chinese organizations; and Taiwan banks can now open deposits in the Chinese currency, the renminbi (RMB).

How Moscow views “the two Chinas”

According to articles in the foreign press concerning the meeting in Singapore between “the two Chinas,” it can be seen that the rapprochement between Beijing and Taipei is objectively in the interests of the U.S. Administration, despite the fact that the foreign policy moves made by the current Taiwanese president are not always coordinated with Washington. The fact is that the U.S. does not need another tension point in the “Greater Far East.”
Then again, this meeting held in Singapore between Xi and Ma also benefits the geopolitical interests of Russia. As is well known, from the very beginning after China was divided in 1949, the Soviet Union, and later Russia consistently advocated the restoration of the territorial integrity of China.

Over many long years, Moscow fought to ensure that China had the right to speak for the interests of the Chinese nation. At the same time, we should recall the fact that – in many respects due to the critical position of Moscow in 1958, when Chairman Mao wanted to take Taiwan by force – relations between the U.S.S.R. and China quickly deteriorated.

Of course, the relations between Moscow and Beijing in no way follow the same format, or are on the same level, as the relations that were developed in the 1990s between Russia and Taiwan. In the first case, we are talking about a strategic partnership.
Economic trade between Russia and China, in spite of all the problems caused by the economic crisis, totals $95 billion. The volume of trade with Taiwan is several times lower, and of course, there are no official inter-state relations between Moscow and Taipei, although specific trade, scientific and cultural contacts are in development.
However, in any case, as in the past, Russian diplomacy supports only a peaceful resolution of the “Taiwan Problem” through open dialogue. Such an approach respects the territorial integrity of China, as well as the interests of the inhabitants of Taiwan. It remains to be seen if anything can change this objective reality of East Asian geopolitics.

Video - Sergei Lavrov reacts to Paris attacks & insists on "need for international coalition against ISIS"

Video - French President Francois Hollande visits scene of Paris attack

Francois Hollande rises to the toughest 24 hours in his presidency

By Henry Samuel
French president will hold meetings with political leaders from across the spectrum during the weekend before making rare address to parliament on Monday

The first François Hollande heard of the bloodiest terror attack in French history was when bodyguards spirited the president out of a France-Germany football game after what many in the crowd of 80,000 assumed were two powerful firecrackers rocked the stadium.
In fact, at around 9.20pm, a first suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt - the murderous starter gun for the toughest 24 hours in Mr Hollande’s three-year presidency. A second, then a third followed. For the second time in nine months, France was the global focus of horror and despair at mindless Islamist violence – not against a specific target like blasphemous cartoonists, soldiers or Jews - but anyone out on the town and in the wrong place.
Seen as indecisive and wobbly on the domestic political and economic front, the unpopular Mr Hollande has consistently shown steely resolve on foreign policy and security issues, taking on jihadists in Mali and launching airstrikes in Syria. Even his enemies credited him with finding the right tone to reassure and unite the French in the wake of the January attacks in the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery. This time, however, the scale of the atrocity was on altogether another level and it was written all over his face. Terror experts had foreseen an imminent French September 11, security chiefs had told France to steel itself for attacks and yet when these unfolded, the shock to the head of state was clearly hard to bear. Mr Hollande struggled to contain his emotion in a televised address confirming “dozens” of dead, declaring a state of emergency, the closure of its borders, military reinforcements in the Paris area and an ongoing mass hostage taking in a concert hall. With gunmen likely still on the loose, the president ignored staunch warnings from his security advisers to stay away from the concert hall, heading to the scene after the final police shootout – as he did in January – to show he had a semblance of control over the chaos.
But as the scale of the carnage became apparent in the early hours, and Paris awoke to shuttered shops and dread in its heart, the president had little choice but to address the country once more. This time, the tone was martial. “This is an act of war committed by a terrorist army, Isil,” he told a shocked nation. “This was prepared, organised planned outside the country with inside complicity that the investigation will establish. “France will be merciless toward the Isil barbarians,” said Mr Hollande, declaring three days of mourning. Earlier he presided over a special defence council meeting, the Gallic equivalent of Britain’s Cobra committee.
Throughout the day the president held “intense” diplomatic discussions with all of the top world leaders. With messages of condolences and solidarity pouring in from around the world, some have called for a mass march to match the Je Suis Charlie one that drew four million in January in tribute to the dead. It also included a mix of world leaders from Angela Merkel to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian authority president.
No such plans were announced, but in one act of defiance in the face of the terror threat, the French government confirmed that next month’s crucial international climate conference, in which 196 world leaders, including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, are due to convene on the French capital to thrash out measures to limit global warming, will indeed go ahead, despite security fears.
With his ruling Socialist Party heading for a drubbing in upcoming December elections, Mr Hollande had hoped to kick start his ailing presidency by securing a landmark deal at the summit. None of that matters to the French right now. They are shaken but clearly not bowed given the numbers milling in the streets of Paris yesterday. They aren’t looking for political point scoring, they need a captain in a storm, and Mr Hollande knows it.
It is in that spirit of unity that he will on Sunday convene meetings with all of France’s political leaders, from Nicolas Sarkozy, the ex-president, to Marine Le Pen, head of the far-Right Front National. Then on Monday, the president will convene the upper and lower houses of parliament in Versailles to brief them on the next steps. “National unity is essential”, said Claude Bartolone, the ruling Socialists parliamentary speaker. It is a rare spectacle to see a French president, viewed virtually as a Republican monarch and above the parliamentary fray, address MPs and senators.
But it is an essential move, said Mr Bartolone, “in order to show the jihadist terrorists that every tear, every drop of blood will only strengthen our resolve against this obscurantism and against this desire to attack what France stands for.”

Scores of Afghan soldiers defect to Taliban during battle

At least 65 Afghani troops, including several commanders, have joined the Taliban forces in the volatile Helmand province, officials said. The government troops have been clashing with insurgents in the area for weeks.
The authorities launched an investigation into the incident, Helmand province governor Mirza Khan Rahimi said on Saturday.
"Soldiers from an Afghan army brigade in Station area have joined the Taliban with their equipment and weapons," he said, adding that three of the soldiers were commanders.
The Taliban confirmed the incident, which reportedly took place Friday, saying that the government troops "repented their mistakes and surrendered to the Mujahedeen."
The soldiers brought five armored vehicles and ammunition, according to the Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.
Pressure on Ghani government
The Afghani troops have been fighting the insurgents near the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah almost non-stop for the past three weeks.
While the soldiers and the police have so far managed to protect the city, they were not successful in pushing the rebel groups out of the surrounding area.
Helmand is among the most volatile parts of the country.
The fighting has been taking an increased toll on Kabul forces since the international troops reduced their air support and surveillance efforts.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani restated the need to boost Afghan air defenses while speaking via video conferece with the US defense secretary Ash Carter.

Pakistan's Former President Asif Ali Zardari condemns Paris attacks

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has condemned the militant attacks in Paris resulting in the killing of over one hundred people and wounding of many more.
The Pakistan Peoples’ Party strongly condemns the terror attack in Paris and offers deepest condolences to the victims’ families and the people of France, he said in a statement today.
Terrorism is a new threat to humankind he said adding also that such attacks cannot and will not weaken the resolve of nations across the world to root out the militants and extremists.
The latest terror attack in France as well the attacks from time to time in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria , Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and indeed anywhere in the world bring home yet again the global dimensions of the menace and the need for the nations to work together to eradicate it, he said.
Zardari said that his heart went out to the bereaved families of those killed and wounded in the Paris terror attacks.


Some eight months into the deadly Saudi war against Yemen, the Riyadh regime now seems stuck in a quagmire, without a clear strategy to end the costly military campaign in “a face-saving way,” a report says.
The report, published by The Washington Post on Thursday, outlined the economic and political challenges facing the Al Saud family due to the war it has waged against Yemen as well as mounting pressure on Riyadh even by some of its own allies due to the high number of civilian casualties caused in the war.
“This war is draining the Saudis militarily, politically, strategically,” the Post quoted Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemen analyst at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, as saying. “The problem is they’re stuck there.”
Since late March, Saudi Arabia has been involved in a military campaign against Yemen supposedly with the aim of weakening the country’s Ansarullah movement and returning the government of fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, its staunch ally, to power.
Referring to a growing rift in the coalition of mostly Persian Gulf monarchies that are assisting Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen, the report said the aggressors appear “unable to find a face-saving way to end the costly conflict.”
According to the report, the protracted Saudi war, which has led to thousands of civilian deaths so far, has drawn an outcry from numerous international human rights bodies, making it difficult for Riyadh’s long-time allies, including the US and the UK, to keep up their support for the Saudi regime in the military campaign.
Egypt and Pakistan, the report said, have also let down Saudi requests for the dispatch of troops to help Riyadh’s military and the pro-Hadi militias on the battleground against the Yemeni army, backed by Ansarullah fighters and Popular Committees.
The war has caused even more headaches for Riyadh, the report said, pointing to dissent within the House of Saud.
It said Riyadh’s offensive “has intensified apparent power struggles within the secretive and opaque royal family,” with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud receiving letters from the royals critical of the war’s economic burdens on the kingdom, which is already suffering from low oil prices.
“It’s all somewhat murky, of course, but the war is generating this competition for power,” said Yezid Sayigh, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
The power struggle among Saudi royals came to the surface after the death of former King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, which put Salman at the helm in the kingdom early this year.
Shortly after his rise to power, Salman rattled the kingdom with shake-ups, including with the appointment of his son Prince Mohammad bin Salman to deputy crown prince and defense minister, a position that placed the 30-year-old in charge of the kingdom’s war on Yemen.
Yemeni forces continue to defend their country in the face of Saudi attacks, as foreign troops and allied pro-Hadi militias operating on the ground are unable to make any gains and appear to be mired in back-and-forth battles, the report said.
Riyadh feels humiliated by the failure to achieve the objectives of its months-long war, while it remains “unclear how Saudi Arabia can end its military involvement without coming off as a loser,” it said.

Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Yemen

In Yemen’s southern port city of Aden security is in the hands of a mix of the young and local fighters from the Southern Separatist movement.
Aden was under the control of Iran-backed Houthi militias but in July troops loyal to the exiled President Hadi ousted them.
Since then officials say the city has descended into chaos. Assassinations and killings have increased. The security services are struggling to cope.
“The war has destroyed everything, including the security services. Former president Ali Saleh had built security institutions that served him and when he was overthrown those institutions collapsed. Today we rely on the young men of the resistance to work side by side with the security forces in the field, with the police and residents of the south to take care of security,” explained Head of Aden Public Sesurity Mohammed Musaed.
Taiz is split between Houthi-Saleh forces and pro-government gunmen fighting for every inch of ground. Of the more than 5,600 Yemenis killed in the civil war more than 1,600 have died in the city.
“The catastrophe is no longer imminent as we used to say. We are now in the deepest depths of a true catastrophe. There is a total collapse of the health sector inside the city. The hospitals that have not yet closed their doors to patients can no longer cope and deliver proper surgical care for victims of the war,” said Dr Abdel Raheem Al Saamee.
The city is besieged, water supplies are cut off with rebels mounting security checks and preventing vital supplies getting through.
The Red Cross said it had been negotiating to get basic medical aid through for over two months but to no avail

The Great Dance: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Yemen Question


Pakistan refused to send troops to help Saudi Arabia and the UAE fight its war in Yemen. The Saudis and the Emiratis were furious. Ties seemed on the brink of being snapped. Then, last week, generals from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia met as their troops conducted a joint exercise. All seemed well. So, what was all that about? In early April, Pakistan’s parliament held a crucial debate over five days. Saudi Arabia and the UAE had begun an assault on Yemen. They requested Pakistani troops. Neither the Saudis nor the Emiratis have the capacity for ground warfare, but their fighters are comfortable in the air.
The Pakistani parliament surprised both the Saudis and the Emiratis with a twelve-point resolution.
Unanimously, the parliament vowed to defend Saudi territory, as the home of Mecca and Medina. It called upon the UN and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to bring the parties to ceasefire negotiations. The most significant of their points was number eight: “[Parliament] desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role in the crisis.” In other words, no Pakistani ground troops to enter on the Saudi-Emirati side. The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that the Pakistani decision was “dangerous and unexpected”. He accused Pakistan of siding with the Iranians. Saudi Arabia dispatched its trusted Minister for Religious Affairs, Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammad al-Sheikh. It is said in Islamabad that he came to chide Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the caprice of the Pakistanis. Prime Minister Sharif said that the resolution had been “misinterpreted”, and that Pakistan did indeed pledge to support the Saudis in a defensive war. The problem that he had to face was that the Pakistani parliament had refused to allow its troops to enter an aggressive war against Yemen.
In the salons of Pakistan, they say that Nawaz Sharif is a Saudi holding company. When he fled the country in 1999, he went to the Saudi kingdom, where he lived in central Jeddah until his return in 2008. That he could not deliver troops when the kingdom demanded them was seen as an insult. Nawaz Sharif rushed off to Riyadh ten days later. He took with him General Raheel Sharif and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif. This was a top brass visit. The Saudis met him cordially, but would not shake off their anger. They expected more. Nawaz Sharif could not deliver their needs.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – along with Morocco – formed the World Muslim League in 1964 and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 1969 as part of a global offensive against Communism. These links drew Pakistani fighter pilots to Saudi Arabia in 1969 to take on a South Yemeni incursion. Pakistani troops became a frequent presence in the kingdom in the following decades. In the 1980s, Riyadh’s money – and its jihadis – had gone to Pakistan’s northern border to fight in Afghanistan. These bonds had been forged in money and blood. So why did Pakistan decide not to join the latest war? The surface answer given in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the civilian and military capitals, is that the Pakistanis are too busy fighting their own war – Operation Zarb-e-Azb [“Sharp Strike”] in Waziristan. That war is not against the Pakistani Taliban, but against foreign fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Chechen Islamic Jihad Union, Imarat Kaukaz and the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement. It is hard to determine how the Pakistani army has been doing. The only information comes from its Inter-Services Public Relations wing. There is consensus, however, that Pakistan’s army is tied down by its own wars. A second, less obvious, reason comes from a senior Pakistani diplomat. He told me a few months ago that sections of the Pakistani military worried about the nature of Saudi conflicts. In 2014, when King Salman was crown prince, he visited Pakistan and urged Nawaz Sharif to come out in public for the removal of Bashar al-Assad. This is precisely what Nawaz Sharif did, much to the chagrin of his military brass.
In earlier conflicts in the Middle East, the Pakistani military went willingly because these were being framed in terms of the defense of Islam. This battle in West Asia now seems less about the defence of Islam and more on sectarian lines – as a Sunni-Shia conflict.
The war in Yemen seemed framed in sectarian terms. That the UAE’s Foreign Minister accused Pakistan of being an Iranian stooge seemed to prove the point. The Pakistani military does not want to enter such a conflict, as it would merely create more problems along sectarian lines in Pakistan itself. Last week, Pakistan’s military chief, General Raheel Sharif, who was not keen on the Yemen war, visited King Salman and his own Saudi counterpart, General Abdul Rehman Bin Saleh al-Bunyan. At al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, General Sharif met with King Salman to rebuild “close relations between the two brotherly countries”. Outside, a contingent of Saudi and Pakistani troops conducted a joint military exercise. It was symbolic, but it showed that the ties are not utterly frayed.
What gave the Pakistani military confidence to walk away from the Saudi request, says the senior diplomat, was the gradual alignment of Pakistan to a Chinese and Russian axis. In November 2014, Russia and Pakistan signed a “military cooperation” agreement, with secret discussions about Pakistani purchases of Russian military hardware. The Chinese have pledged to invest $46 billion in Pakistan, some of which is more than likely to go to the Pakistani military. Saudi money is not the only game in town. It is perhaps one of the reasons why a section of the Pakistani elite is no longer utterly beholden to Riyadh.

To really combat terror, end support for Saudi Arabia

By Owen Jones

Ramped up rhetoric on security makes no sense so long as the west cosies up to dictatorships that support fundamentalism.

 he so-called war on terror is nearly 13 years old, but which rational human being will be cheering its success? We’ve had crackdowns on civil liberties across the world, tabloid-fanned generalisations about Muslims and, of course, military interventions whose consequences have ranged from the disastrous to the catastrophic. And where have we ended up? Wars that Britons believe have made them less safe; jihadists too extreme even for al-Qaida’s tastes running amok in Iraq and Syria; and nations like Libya succumbing to Islamist militias. There are failures, and then there are calamities.
But as the British government ramps up the terror alert to “severe” and yet moreanti-terror legislation is proposed, some reflection after 13 years of disaster is surely needed. One element has been missing, and that is the west’s relationship with Middle Eastern dictatorships that have played a pernicious role in the rise of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. And no wonder: the west is militarily, economically and diplomatically allied with these often brutal regimes, and our media all too often reflects the foreign policy objectives of our governments.
Take Qatar. There is evidence that, as the US magazine The Atlantic puts it, “Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra”, an al-Qaida group operating in Syria. Less than two weeks ago, Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, was slapped down after pointing the finger at Qatar for funding Islamic State (Isis).
While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US.
And yet, where are the western demands for Qatar to stop funding international terrorism or being complicit in the rise of jihadi groups? Instead, Britain arms Qatar’s dictatorship, selling it millions of pounds worth of weaponry including “crowd-control ammunition” and missile parts. There are other reasons for Britain to keep stumm, too. Qatar owns lucrative chunks of Britain such as the Shard, a big portion of Sainsbury’s and a slice of the London Stock Exchange.
Then there’s Kuwait, slammed by Amnesty International for curtailing freedom of expression, beating and torturing demonstrators and discriminating against women. Hundreds of millions have been channelled by wealthy Kuwaitis to Syria, again ending up with groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.
Kuwait has refused to ban the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a supposed charity designated by the US Treasuryas an al-Qaida bankroller. David Cohen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has even described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria”. As Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told me: “High profile Kuwaiti clerics were quite openly supporting groups like al-Nusra, using TV programmes in Kuwait to grandstand on it.” All of this is helped by lax laws on financing and money laundering, he says.
But don’t expect any concerted action from the British government. Kuwait is “an important British ally in the region”, as the British government officially puts it. Tony Blair has become the must-have accessory of every self-respecting dictator, ranging from Kazakhstan to Egypt; Kuwait was Tony Blair Associates’ first clientin a deal worth £27m. Britain has approved hundreds of arms licences to Kuwait since 2003, recently including military software and anti-riot shields.
And then, of course, there is the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Much of the world was rightly repulsed when Isis beheaded the courageous journalist James Foley. Note, then, that Saudi Arabia has beheaded 22 people since 4 August. Among the “crimes” that are punished with beheading are sorcery and drug trafficking.
Around 2,000 people have been killed since 1985, their decapitated corpses often left in public squares as a warning. According to Amnesty International, the death penalty “is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe”, with the use of torture to extract confessions commonplace. Shia Muslims are discriminated against and women are deprived of basic rights, having to seek permission from a man before they can even travel or take up paid work.
Even talking about atheism has been made a terrorist offence and in 2012, 25-year-old Hamza Kashgari was jailed for 20 months for tweeting about the prophet Muhammad. Here are the fruits of the pact between an opulent monarchy and a fanatical clergy.
This human rights abusing regime is deeply complicit in the rise of Islamist extremism too. Following the Soviet invasion, the export of the fundamentalist Saudi interpretation of Islam – Wahhabism – fused with Afghan Pashtun tribal code and helped to form the Taliban. The Saudi monarchy would end up suffering from blowback as al-Qaida eventually turned against the kingdom.
Chatham House professor Paul Stevens says: “For a long time, there was an unwritten agreement … whereby al-Qaida’s presence was tolerated in Saudi Arabia, but don’t piss inside the tent, piss outside.” Coates Ulrichsen warns that Saudi policy on Syria could be “Afghanistan on steroids”, as elements of the regime have turned a blind eye to where funding for anti-Assad rebels ends up.
Although Saudi Arabia has given $100m (£60m) to the UN anti-terror programme and the country’s grand mufti has denounced Isis as “enemy number one”, radical Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom. According to Clinton’s leaked memo, Saudi donors constituted “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.
But again, don’t expect Britain to act. Our alliance with the regime dates back to 1915, and Saudi Arabia is the British arms industry’s biggest market, receiving £1.6bn of military exports. There are now more than 200 joint ventures between UK and Saudi companies worth $17.5bn.
So much rhetoric about terrorism; so many calls to act. Yet Britain’s foreign policy demonstrates how empty such words are. Our allies are up to their necks in complicity with terrorism, but as long as there is money to be made and weapons to sell, our rulers’ lips will remain stubbornly sealed.