June 13th, 2011
08:05 AM ET

Security Brief – June 13, 2011

Compiled by CNN's Tim Lister

Today's Security Brief includes:
* Syria: security forces retake town – refugees flood to Turkish border
* Syria: opposition group claims 1,300 have died in unrest
* Libya: rebels inch forward from Misrata, and reports of fighting west of capital
* Architect of US embassy bombings killed in Somalia
* Yemen: Islamic extremists tighten grip in south
* Bahrain: medical workers on trial
* Why the “Arab Spring” is bad for US intelligence
* Afghanistan: new guidance for avoiding civilian casualties; as administration looks at drawdown
* Pakistan: Panetta visit didn’t go well, say local media

Syria: Security forces retake town; more refugees cross into Turkey

The flashpoint city of Jisr al-Shugur which has seen fierce fighting between security forces and opposition continues to be a focal point of Syria’s uprising. Activists tell CNN that the Syrian military is in complete control after surging into the northwestern city Sunday. Also on Sunday, Syrian state television reported the discovery of a "mass grave" of a score of slaughtered security forces. State TV later aired images showing several bodies unearthed. Former residents for their part deny a slaughter, saying they believe it is fabricated propaganda and further deny that armed gangs killed more than a hundred security forces a week ago. CNN’s Arwa Damon will report on the makeshift camp on the Syrian side of the border where people are dying before they can get medical attention…

Turkey is setting up another refugee camp – the fifth – to cope with the exodus. Turkish media reporting nearly 6,000 Syrians waiting at border trying to cross.

NYT adds: By the end of Sunday, Jisr al-Shoughour was largely abandoned, heavily damaged by the bombardment and gunfire, the witnesses said. Tanks rolled through the streets unchallenged, and soldiers found evidence of just how serious the uprising had been: a grave with several corpses still in uniform and a police headquarters that was burned and in chaos.

A man identifying himself as a Syrian army defector, whose comments were streamed on the Internet and translated by Britain's Sky News television, said anti-government forces had set traps to delay the advance by Syrian troops, to let people escape. "We waited to get about 10 percent of the population out. The remaining 90 percent had already managed to leave," the man, identifying himself as Lieutenant-Colonel Hussein Harmoush, told the online Ugarit News video news channel.

"At the moment Jisr al-Shughour is totally devoid of civilians. We are the only people that remain here."

UK says UN resolution on Syria “in difficulty”; Sen. Graham suggests military force

Britain attempted to step up international pressure on the Syrian regime on Sunday, denouncing tank and helicopter gunship attacks on civilians in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour and demanding that the Red Cross be granted immediate access to conflict areas.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, again ruled out military intervention to protect Syrian civilians of the kind recently undertaken in Libya. He also admitted that British-backed efforts to agree a UN security council resolution condemning the repression in Syria have run into difficulties and were poised "on a knife edge". "I remain deeply concerned by the very serious situation in Syria, including in Jisr al-Shughour, where we have seen a large number of people flee the Syrian government's military offensive," Hague said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Sunday called for increased U.S. action in Syria, and said "now is the time to let [Syrian president Bashar] Assad know that all options are the table" – including the possible use of military force. Graham, in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation," decried what he described as the Assad regime's "wholesale slaughter" against the Syrian people, and urged the U.S. to take a similar approach in that nation as it has in Libya in seeking the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. It's time, Graham contended, to "get the regional partners to tell the Assad he has to go. And put everything on the table – including military force."

Opposition claims 1,300 killed so far in Syria 

The main Syrian activist group organizing protests said on Sunday a violent crackdown has killed 1,300 civilians and called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down to transform the country into a democracy. The Local Coordination Committees said in a statement power must be handed to the army and an internationally supervised conference should convene within six months to write a new constitution and "stop Syria from sliding into chaos and guarantee a peaceful transfer of power….The regime... has forced the army into a confrontation with its own people, as if Syria did not have land under occupation (to be liberated). It has worked on stirring sectarian fears without any consideration for national cohesion," it said.

The conference would include "regime politicians with no blood on their hands," representatives of the opposition and activists on the ground, the statement said.

Elite units lead Syria crackdown – regular troops less willing?

The crackdown against the opposition protest movement is being carried out mainly by the elite 4th Division and the Republican Guards regiment, which collectively consist of some 20,000 soldiers and are commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother.

They are the best trained and equipped units in the Syrian army and are dominated by the Alawite sect, a splinter of Shiite Islam that forms the backbone of the regime. These regular units are supported by an unspecified number of personnel in various Syrian intelligence branches and the Shabiha, an Alawite paramilitary group. Much of the rest of the army is comprised of Sunni conscripts fulfilling the mandatory army service, many of whom will have little loyalty to the regime. The opposition has published several video-taped testimonies from defecting soldiers in which they describe being ordered to open fire on civilian protesters.

Reports emerged Saturday night of soldiers in the coastal town of Latakia preventing pro-regime Shabiha militiamen access to some neighbors. If confirmed, it points to further indications of dissent within the Syrian military.

Libya: rebels inch westwards amid reports of fighting for a town close to Tripoli

NATO actions Sunday: around Tripoli – 3 Anti-Aircraft Artillery Pieces, 1 Surface-To-Air Missile Launcher. In the vicinity of Misratah: 2 Rocket Launchers, 2 Anti-Aircraft Artillery Pieces, 1 Military Truck

Seven people died Sunday in fighting in the town of Dafniya near the besieged city of Misrata, according to a hospital spokesman. The deaths include a woman who died when a Grad rocket landed in her home. Dafniya was quiet Sunday evening, said Ibrahim Beit-elmal, a spokesman for the Misrata military committee. On the southern front of Abdul Rauf, the rebels were able to capture 10 Gadhafi forces and a few vehicles after an ambush was set for them, he said.

Latest video of Misrata fighting: http://gamutnews.com/20110612/21161/video-battles-rage-on-the-outskirts-of-misrata.html

Reuters adds: Rebel commander Mohammed Swahili said he picked market day in Zlitan to approach the town and raise the rebel flag, in the slow push westwards towards the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Rebels hoisted the flag at a grocery store on the outskirts of Zlitan, 12 km (7 miles) beyond their forward front line and the next target for fighters who took the port city of Misrata. "There's a lot of activity inside," he said, referring to the level of support in Zlitan for the uprising against Muammar

Gaddafi's 41-year rule. But their own advance west, having wrested Misrata itself from forces loyal to Gaddafi, is proving painfully slow and increasingly bloody. On Sunday, they claimed a couple of bullet-pocked homes and an orchard a few hundred meters from their positions about midway between Misrata and Zlitan.

To the west of Tripoli, the rebels have reported fighting for the Mediterranean port city of Zawiya, 18 miles (30 kilometers) west of Tripoli, a prize that would put them within striking distance of the capital and cut off one of Moammar Gadhafi's last supply routes from Tunisia. But government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said late Sunday Gadhafi forces had driven off the attackers, and reporters taken to Zawiya saw secure streets and the green national flag flying over a central square. The insurgents, for their part, claimed a high-ranking Gadhafi commander was badly wounded in the fighting. Zawiya is the site of a refinery that is the Gaddafi government’s last remaining source of fuel.

But more than four months after the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi’s 40-year rule began, and nearly three months into the NATO airstrikes that have empowered the rebels, the government’s official response, measured by the mood at a news conference in Tripoli on Sunday, suggested that the Libyan leader and his associates were as deeply dug in as ever. They seemed confident, at least publicly, that they could outlast NATO and the rebels.

Architect of embassy bombings killed in Mogadishu: analysis

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Zain Verjee:

At midnight last Tuesday two men were traveling in a black four-wheel drive through the Somali capital, Mogadishu. One was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the most wanted terrorist in Africa. Mohammed had survived more than a decade on the run, several attempts on his life, and a $5 million price on his head for planning the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

But his luck was about to run out in the chaos of Mogadishu, where the front lines between the weak transitional government and al Qaeda affiliate Shabaab shift almost weekly. His vehicle was headed toward a government checkpoint, possibly after taking a wrong turn. According to some accounts it tried to speed through, setting off a firefight with police. Others say police opened fire after finding weapons in the vehicle. Mohammed was killed, but to begin with the Somali security forces had no idea who he was.

Only when they discovered cell phones, a South African passport, a substantial amount of cash and a laptop did they realize this was someone of significance. So his body – which had been rapidly buried – was exhumed, according to military officials. A sample of his DNA was sent to Nairobi, where US officials confirmed it was Mohammed.

Yemen: Islamic extremists tighten hold in south 

From the Washington Post: Islamist extremists, many suspected of links to al-Qaeda, are engaged in an intensifying struggle against government forces for control of southern Yemen, taking advantage of a growing power vacuum to create a stronghold near vital oil shipping lanes, said residents, Yemeni and U.S. officials.

Over the past few weeks, the militants have swiftly taken over two towns, including Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, and surrounding areas and appear to be pushing farther south, said Yemeni security officials and residents. Increasingly, it appears as if al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate is seeking for the first time to grab and hold large swaths of territory, adding a dangerous dimension to Yemen’s crisis. U.S. and Yemeni officials worry that a loss of government control in the south could further destabilize this strategic Middle Eastern nation, already gripped by political paralysis, violent conflicts and fears of collapse.

They describe a ghost town where streets are a canvas of destruction, struck by daily shelling, air assaults and gunfire. There’s no electricity, water or other services. Tens of thousands, mostly women and children, have fled the city. Men have stayed back only to protect their homes. The extremists man checkpoints, and any semblance of authority or governance has vanished.

"They want to create an Islamic emirate," said Mohammed al-Shuhairi, 50, a journalist in al-Kowd, near Zinjibar. "I have lived through wars here in 1978, 1986 and 1994. But I have never seen anything as bad as this."

At least 21 suspected militants were killed during a counter-terrorism operation by security forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the city of Zinjibar on 12 June. At least nine soldiers were also killed in the clashes. State authorities claimed that majority of the militants were members of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), although this could not be independently verified. (Al-Jazeera)

See also: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/06/12/yemen.unrest/index.html?iref=allsearch

Death toll in Zinjibar now 140, say officials

At least 140 people have been killed in two weeks of clashes between Yemeni security forces and suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen in the southern city of Zinjibar, a military official said on Monday.

"At least 80 security officials including soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with Al-Qaeda militants since Zinjibar fell under the (Al-Qaeda) network's grip" in late May, said the military official. According to military officials, Al-Qaeda fighters have besieged the base of the army's 25th mechanised brigade in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province. Nearly 4,000 soldiers remain in the base.

FBI in Yemen investigating Saleh attack?

Yemen Times reports: The United States has sent an FBI forensics team to Yemen to investigate the attack on the compound of President Ali Abdullah Saleh that seriously injured the president, forcing him to leave the country last week.
“The FBI is aiding Yemeni law enforcement in their investigation in the attack on the presidential compound. The FBI team arrived in Sanaa last Wednesday,” said a senior Yemeni government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The arrival of the FBI team, which came at the request of the Yemeni government, underscores the close relationship the United States and the Saleh administration continue to maintain, despite a months long uprising and subsequent violent crackdown by government security forces that have killed hundreds of peaceful protesters.

The family that may rule Yemen

“The Ahmar family have been very powerful as kingmakers behind the scenes,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University. “They’re very politically powerful and, given their business interests, they’re quite a force on the economic scene as well.”

Together, the Ahmar family can draw on billions of dollars in cash as well as tens of thousands of armed tribesmen for support, which makes the brothers the biggest threat to the remnants of Saleh’s regime, and ensures that the family will play a decisive role in post-Saleh Yemen.

Hamid al-Ahmar has nine brothers, among them Sadeq, 55, the head of the Hashed, the country’s largest and most influential tribal confederation. The other brothers also have influential business and tribal ties. It’s a surprising turn of history, as not so long ago some members of the Ahmar family were actually among the president’s most ardent supporters. Sheik Abdullah, the Ahmar patriarch who was long considered the second-most-powerful man in Yemen, helped Saleh gain the presidency in 1978 and stuck by him for nearly 30 years. But after Abdullah’s death in 2007, long-hidden family rivalries spilled into the open.

Bahrain: “poet” jailed; medical workers on trial

A 20-year-old woman who recited poems critical of Bahrain’s rulers and later claimed she was beaten in jail was sentenced to a year in prison, as part of the kingdom's crackdown on Shia protesters calling for greater rights. The ruling by a special security tribunal sent a strong message that the Sunni monarchy is not easing off on punishments linked to the unrest despite appeals for talks with Shia groups in the strategic Gulf island state, which is home to the US navy's 5th Fleet.

Ayat al-Qurmezi became a minor celebrity among protesters after reciting poems critical of the king and prime minister during gatherings in the capital's Pearl Square, which was the hub for Shia-led demonstrations that broke out in February after drawing inspiration from the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

*Shiite medical workers are on trial in Bahrain on charges of involvement in anti-government protests. A total of 24 doctors and 23 nurses working at Salmaniya hospital were in May referred to the court on an array of charges. Their relatives say they were tortured to extract confessions. Their trial resumes Monday. CNN’s Nic Robertson is reporting the story.

Jordan: King promises “elected governments”

As part of the announced reforms, Abdullah emphasized that the new law should "guarantee the fairness and transparency of the electoral process through a mechanism that will lead to a parliament with active political party representation; one that allows the formation of governments based on parliamentary majority and political party manifestos in the future."

The king also announced economic reforms, including changes to the country's tax system in order to "raise the level of competitiveness, enhance the atmosphere for investment, secure work opportunities for youth and maintain the state's active, observatory role in an open market economy."

It was not clear when the reforms would be implemented.

The address comes six months after protests broke out in the country. Most of them, unlike demonstrators in Arab countries that have seen uprisings, have not been seeking regime change but changes to the regime.

Arab Spring bad news for US intelligence

Confronted by the cold realities of this year’s Arab Spring, many intelligence and counterterrorism professionals now see major dangers looming near at hand, while the good news—a freer, fairer, more equitable and stable Arab world—remains somewhere over the horizon. “All this celebration of democracy is just bullshit,” says one senior intelligence officer who’s spent decades fighting terrorism and finds his job getting harder, not easier, because of recent developments. “You take the lid off and you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think disaster is lurking.”

“With the loss of intelligence cooperation with Yemen, we are trying to cut back the jihadis as much as possible,” says terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University. “But where it used to be surgical, it’s now much blunter.”

Over the long term, in fact, the key to defending Americans and U.S. interests from attacks by jihadists is either to insert spies into their organizations or to persuade people who are already inside to talk. Aerial surveillance and communications intercepts are useful, but solid information from human sources is vital, whether you’re targeting specific terrorist leaders or trying to disrupt operations in other ways.

Panetta’s visit to Pakistan yields little – local media

Mr Panetta, who arrived on Friday evening, did not meet anyone other than the Kayani-Pasha duo (military and intelligence chiefs) who he met at the Army House over dinner and discussed what was described by the ISPR as “framework for future intelligence sharing”.

Mr Panetta’s departure without routine calls on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was seen by observers here as a sign of stalemate in his discussions with the military leadership. According to sources, Mr Panetta was surprised by the rigidity shown by the military, which went to the extent of even declining an offer by Washington of security assistance. But government officials insisted that unlike in the past this time he was not scheduled to meet anyone else.

While Gen Kayani had even before his visit made it clear that the Army would not allow the CIA to carry out independent operations and that any future intelligence cooperation would be reciprocal and transparent, Mr Panetta did little to pacify Pakistani generals and instead confronted them with “evidence of collusion with Taliban militants”.

Pakistan’s blunt no to CIA Chief Leon Panetta for undertaking joint military operations against potential high-value targets would eventually lead to a far more reciprocal and transparent Islamabad-Washington cooperation, sources said on Sunday.
“Washington is expected to take corrective measures accordingly”, military sources said in response to queries relating to actions the US might take in the backdrop of these developments.
Sources were of the view that Pakistan cannot trust the US after its unilateral raid on Osma bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2, which had belittled chances of any joint military operations in future.
Except for reciprocal and transparent intelligence cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, Pakistan will not accept US demand for joint military operations, and that is why US had to recall its military trainers and CIA operatives from Pakistan.
Sources said that Islamabad’s new policy has brought to end the presence of US military in Pakistan, and both the countries are struggling to redefine their strategic cooperation on new lines to serve the mutual interest.

Pakistan-Afghan atmospherics better

Pakistan is more willing than before to play a role in Afghanistan's tentative peace process with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's top officials said Sunday after a visit to Islamabad. Taliban havens in Pakistan and Islamabad's reputed ties to insurgent leaders in the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network make neighboring Pakistan's involvement vital in any sustainable peace deal.

Karzai, who met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, called on the Pakistani government to help Taliban rebels take part in any peace negotiations, said Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, secretary of a peace council set up by Karzai.

"During the talks, the message of the Afghan government was very clear," he said. "The message was that those (rebels) who want to join the peace process and reconcile should be facilitated and the means should be prepared for them in order to enable them to join the negotiations," he added.

But those who do not want to join the reconciliation process "must be dropped... No room should be left (for them to) arrange and organize and encourage people to fight and continue the war." In response, Pakistan was "much more welcoming than at any other time", said Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer.

Pakistan mulls recruiting tribal elders against extremists

The military is planning to enlist pro-government tribal elders in a fresh campaign it has devised to flush out al Qaeda members and its affiliates from North Waziristan, officials said on Sunday. The move is aimed at deflecting growing US pressure for a full-scale offensive against the Haqqani Network – the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions – allegedly based there.

Under the plan, local tribesmen have been urged to form laskhars, or tribal militias, to take out ‘hard-core al Qaeda elements and their affiliates,’ who have increasingly challenged the writ of the state by mounting deadly terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. “This strategy has achieved significant results in South Waziristan Agency and now it’s time to apply it in the North,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

New guidelines to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan

A special coalition task force is calling for adding new safeguards to battlefield guidelines, in an effort to reduce the civilian deaths that have undermined Afghan confidence in the U.S.-led mission, military officials say.

Following a rising Afghan outcry over civilian casualties, the review team is suggesting that new checks be inserted in the August 2010 tactical directive by coalition commander U.S. Gen. David Petraeus. That document relaxed some of the restrictions imposed on the 150,000 U.S.-led troops under his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The proposed changes, which could be sent to Gen. Petraeus this week, come days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to obstruct coalition airstrikes if they accidentally kill any more Afghan civilians.

While the proposals remain classified and are still under review, military officials characterized the revisions as inserting new "checks and balances" for the troops.

Afghan troop drawdown: latest noise

The Obama administration opens an internal debate this week on the size of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan amid growing doubts in Congress about the cost and purpose of the decade-long war and public pressure to bring it to a rapid end.

President Obama is expected to announce next month the size and pace of a drawdown he promised in December 2009, when he rolled out a strategy that included adding 30,000 U.S. troops in hopes of breaking the Taliban's momentum. He will reach a decision on the number in deliberations with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who are known to favor a small initial reduction in the 100,000-strong troops on the ground, and other officials who want to move more quickly.

Obama has given few hints on which way he is leaning, but the ground may be shifting in favor of a much smaller military footprint. Gates is retiring at the end of the month. Petraeus is moving to the CIA, where he will no longer have direct influence over the size of the military force.

Huntsman on State of the Union:

"We have different worldviews...When you look at Afghanistan, can we hang out until 2014 and beyond?" Huntsman said in an interview aired Sunday on "State of the Union. "I would argue you can if you're willing to pay another quarter of a trillion dollars to do so. But if it isn't in out direct national security interest, and if there isn't a logical exit strategy, and if we don't know what the cost is going to be in terms of money and human lives, then I think you have to say 'I think it's time to re-evaluate this' if we can't make that strong argument to the American people."

Washington Post editorial:

Next month is not a logical or appropriate moment for the United States to begin a troop withdrawal — whether small, medium or large. That such a pullout will nevertheless take place is the result of Mr. Obama’s imprudent decision to set a date for the beginning of withdrawals at the same time he ordered the surge of troops. The president and his advisers are now debating, in private and increasingly in public, how large the withdrawal should be. The process has reopened a split between those who believe in the strategy of building an Afghan government and army that can hold a diminished Taliban at bay by 2014, and those who would narrow U.S. aims to preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing a base in the region.

FBI giving new search powers to agents

From the New York Times: The FBI is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.

The F.B.I. recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.

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