June 28th, 2011
08:37 AM ET

Security brief – June 28, 2011

Compiled by Tim Lister

New US Commander in Afghanistan warns training program needs resources
U.S. forces launch ops in troubled east Afghanistan
Afghanistan's central banker flees to US
New U.S. warning for Pakistan on Afghan war
Fresh doubts over safety of Pakistani nuclear arsenal
Pakistan: drone attacks kill 21
Libya: will ICC warrant make Gadhafi dig in?
Libya: Officials gone to Tunisia to discuss "options"
Syria: CNN interview with top Assad adviser
Iran says it can build longer-range missiles
Yemen: Saleh speech postponed (again) as militants extend control in south
Bahrain: will anyone attend national dialogue?
Saudi: the lingerie revolution

New Afghan Commander warns training program lagging 

Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen said the drawdown will impress on Afghan leaders that they must urgently grow their own security forces to take over as U.S. troops leave.

In a questionnaire prepared for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Allen warned, however, that success in Afghanistan is threatened by a significant lack of military trainers and mentoring teams for the Afghan Army and police.

Gen. David Petraeus, the man Allen will replace if he is confirmed by the Senate, told Congress last week that he had recommended a more gradual withdrawal. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Obama's plan was more aggressive than he considered prudent.

Allen voiced none of that criticism in the committee documents obtained by The Associated Press. "I believe this reality sends an important message of commitment to the Afghan people, as well as a sense of urgency that the Afghans must take on more responsibility for securing their own country," Allen said in the questionnaire.

US operation targets east Afghanistan

A large-scale operation airlifting hundreds of U.S. and Afghan soldiers into the rugged, insurgent-laced mountains of eastern Afghanistan is being met with fierce resistance by the Taliban and other armed groups, according to U.S. military officials in the region.

U.S. commanders say the aim is to wipe out a persistent insurgency in the northern part of Watahpur District in Kunar province, long a stronghold for armed factions both local and from nearby Pakistan, preparing the way for a takeover by the Afghanistan National Army.

"We're trying to kill every terrorist in the area," said Maj. Pat Stitch, brigade operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Stitch said the hope is that the Afghan army can "hold what we cleared" and patrol a region that has been dominated by insurgents from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The idea is that the ANA should be doing this by themselves," he said, adding that ideally the Afghan National Police would join the ANA in its effort.

Nick Paton Walsh takes CNN to where some of the fiercest fighting U.S. soldiers face happens: Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. At the tiny outpost Pirtle King, attacks come in from ALL sides. Lieutenant Ryan Petersen describes the horror of one roadside bomb that killed four soldiers. And about the clear timetable for departure? Lt. Petersen says "We've done what we've done here and it's time to be done." A few days after the losses, the unit dropped $3 million in bombs in just 24 hours. That stopped the attacks… for five days. The massive cost of this war – its blood, its treasure – that is now speeding it to an end.

Afghanistan's central banker flees, fearing for his life

Afghanistan’s top banker, who is alleged to have played a role in the failure of the nation’s largest private lender, has fled the country, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said Monday.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Abdul Qadir Fitrat had not notified the Afghan government of his resignation. But he said that Fitrat was named in a report sent Monday to the Afghan attorney general’s office as someone possibly responsible for the failure of Kabul Bank.

Fitrat told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from a Northern Virginia hotel that he left the country because his life had been threatened and that the Karzai government was refusing to prosecute those allegedly involved in fraudulent loans.

"My life has become completely endangered," Fitrat said. "Since I exposed the fraudulent practices on April 27 in parliament I have received information about threats on my life."

He said he has permanent resident status in the United States and would not be returning to Afghanistan.

The bank at center of scandal

Kabul Bank, which extended huge loans to a coterie of well-connected businessmen, ministers and relatives of Mr Karzai, suffered a run in September after the central bank replaced senior managers amid corruption allegations. "It was a Ponzi scheme," Mr Fitrat said.

The crisis threatened to trigger a broader collapse in Afghanistan’s financial system and exposed graft rampant in the banking sector.

Mr Fitrat said that the authorities had failed to take steps to prosecute people who had profited from the scandal at Kabulbank, which he said has some $900m in outstanding loans. Of those loans, only about $62m have been recovered, he said.

"There are concerns that these powerful people will go unpunished," he said. "Ten months after the Kabul Bank crisis I’ve not seen any co-operation from the law enforcement agencies to put pressure on large borrowers to repay their loans."

World Food Program cuts aid to Afghanistan 

From the Associated Press: The U.N. World Food Program announced Monday it will cut food assistance to more than 3 million Afghans in about half the country's 34 provinces because of a shortage of money from donor nations.

The U.N. agency said it had planned to help feed more than 7 million people in Afghanistan this year, but a shortage of donor funds means only 3.8 million people will be helped through meals provided at schools and training and work programs. It said it needed an additional $220 million to continue its work in Afghanistan at the level originally planned.

The program will focus food assistance on helping the most needy Afghans, especially women and children, said Bradley Guerrant, the agency's deputy country director.

Why the drawdown gets it wrong 

Bret Stephens argues in the Wall Street Journal: It emboldens the Taliban, which thanks to Mr. Obama's surge and David Petraeus's generalship had all but been ousted from its traditional strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. "My soul, and the soul of thousands of Taliban who have been blown up, are happy," Taliban field commander Jamal Khan told the Daily Beast of his reaction to Mr. Obama's speech. "I had more than 50 encounters with U.S. forces and their technology. But the biggest difference in ending this war was not technology but the more powerful Islamic ideology and religion."

It increases the risk to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where the fatality count was finally starting to come down after peaking in 2010. Fewer troops means that U.S. commanders will have to make an invidious choice between clearing territory of enemies and holding and building it for friends. "Whether it is Nangarhar or Ghazni, Kandahar or Herat, the place where we decide to 'surge' with remaining forces will leave a window open—and the Taliban will crawl in," says a U.S. military official with experience in Afghanistan. "Any commander who has experienced a withdrawal under pressure knows that it is perhaps the most difficult operation you can conduct and certainly the most dangerous; it gives the attacker a feeling of superiority and demoralizes the withdrawing force."

US envoy says Pakistan must prove it wants end to war 

AFP reports: Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan said on Monday that Pakistan must prove it wants an end to the war by preventing militants from hiding out on its soil and enabling those who launch attacks on the Afghan side of the border.

Marc Grossman, US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in Kabul that discussions among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States being held this week in the Afghan capital are important to coordinate efforts to find a political resolution to the nearly decade-long war.

He said they also are an opportunity to clearly convey to Pakistani officials that part of their responsibility for bringing peace is to stop supporting insurgent safe havens and those who attack Afghans and international forces in Afghanistan.

"We’ve been pretty clear that going forward here, we want the government of Pakistan to participate positively in the reconciliation process," Grossman said at a news conference. "Pakistan now has important choices to make."

Pakistan's nuclear weapons at risk?

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, who teaches at universities in Lahore and Islamabad, said there was evidence that the Army had been infiltrated by extremist elements.

"We have reason to worry because the most secure installations, bases, and headquarters of the military have been successfully attacked by Islamic militants who have sympathisers within the military," he said.

"What is the proof that nuclear installations or weapon stocks would be exempt from this? My worry is not limited to nuclear arsenals because places that deal with fissile materials can also be similarly infiltrated."

Pakistan's military is reeling from a series of humiliating attacks that has led to fresh questions about whether it can protect the country from enemies – and its nuclear weapons, thought to number up to 120 warheads, from militants. In May, the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for attacking PNS Mehran, a naval base in Karachi.

That attack suggested the "safety and security of nuclear weapons materials in Pakistan may very well be compromised," according to an article published in the Combating Terrorism Center's magazine, Sentinel, at the US military academy West Point.

21 militants killed in latest drone attacks 

US Predators struck for the first time in a week, in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan today, killing 21 "militants" in two attacks, according to reports from the region.

In the first strike, the remotely-piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a vehicle traveling in the village of Ghalmandi Panga in the Birmal area of South Waziristan. Eight "militants" were killed in the strike, according to Reuters

The second strike targeted a Taliban camp that was described as "a big compound which was used as [a] training center" in the town of Mantoi, about 20 miles north of Wana. Thirteen more "militants" were killed in the second strike.

The strikes took place in an area close to the border of North Waziristan that is used by fighters loyal to Taliban commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir, as well as by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Also today, in North Waziristan a Taliban commander named Shakirullah Shakir was reported to have been gunned down while riding a motorcycle near Miramshah.

Most recently, Shakir contacted the media to boast about suicide camps in North Waziristan. He claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers are currently being trained in the three camps that are situated in the Mir Ali area.

"We have three facilities exclusively for fedayeen," he told The Express Tribune. "Each one has more than 350 men being trained in it."

Libya: senior officials discuss "options" in Tunisia 

As the NATO air campaign drags into its fourth month, Gaddafi has endured the deepest crisis of his 41-year rule far longer than NATO officials had expected. Still, there are signs that some within Gaddafi's top ranks are scrambling for a political exit. Three government ministers held talks with foreign envoys on the Tunisian island of Djerba over the weekend, according to a brief picture of the talks shown on Gaddafi's state-run television. Gaddafi's envoy to Algeria met with Algerian officials on Monday to discuss the crisis, while African leaders met in South Africa's capital Pretoria to discuss options to end the war.

It remains unclear whether the ICC warrants will speed an end to the war by accelerating the breakup of the regime, through the isolation of the Gaddafis, or will deepen its defiance by cutting off lines of retreat. Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim on Monday shrugged off the arrest warrants, saying, "The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it."

The court's prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has urged Gaddafi's aides to turn in their leader. Gaddafi's inner circle has to decide whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution in Libya, he said according to AP.

See celebrations in Misrata here.

The ruling is a "cover for NATO which is still trying to assassinate Gaddafi", Mohammed al-Gamudi, Libya's justice minister, said. Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaaim said the International Criminal Court (ICC) "functions as a European foreign policy vehicle.

"It is a political court which serves its European paymasters," he said. "Our own courts will deal with any human rights abuses and other crimes committed in the course of conflict in Libya."

The ICC said the three men were wanted for their roles in suppressing the Libyan uprising, in which civilians have been murdered and persecuted by Gaddafi's forces.

Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from Misrata, said the ICC move was news residents in the city had been "desperately waiting to hear.....Almost every family here has lost a relative in the fighting or [has had a relative] abducted and taken to Tripoli. This is a sign to them that the international community has been listening when they’ve talked about war crimes committed in Misrata."

Medical crisis in rebel-held east

A medical crisis is looming in eastern Libya with hospitals in Benghazi running short of supplies, the rebels' health minister says. Stocks of drugs and other items such as surgical gloves are said to be running out.

Dr Nagi Barakat told the BBC that most emergency aid donated from abroad went straight to the front line. He said that if a new offensive broke out, hospitals would face a major crisis.

On the cancer ward of Benghazi's children's hospital, most patients are not getting the right dosage. There aren't enough drugs to go round.

Dr Amina Bayou says she and her colleagues juggle supplies to give everyone a little. "We try to divide the drugs between this patient and that patient. It's not good," she said.

ICC ruling may make Gadhafi dig in

Not everyone was cheering the news. Michael Rubin, an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the court's move could damage efforts to get Gadhafi to end his 42-year reign, because he would not seek refuge in a country that is a party or signatory to the Rome Statute.

"The ICC's arrest warrant symbolizes the dirty underside of international law," Rubin said. "While the ICC makes itself feel good and diplomats can chatter about their commitment to international law, the fact of the matter is their action takes off the table any possibility that Gadhafi could flee to a retirement haven outside Libya. In effect, the ICC arrest warrant tells Gadhafi to fight to the death."

Most African countries are parties or signatories to the Rome statute. The ICC website lists a total of 47 non-signatories in the world, 13 of them in Africa and the Middle East. Ali Ahmida, an analyst at the University of New England who was born in Libya, said the ICC decision "complicates" the matter.

Syrian official admits protesters "peaceful" 

In a live interview, Syrian Presidential Adviser Bouthaina Shaaban acknowledged to Hala Gorani that there have been peaceful demonstrators alongside "extremists" involved in Syria’s unrest. Shaaban said that President Assad has himself said that the Syrian people had legitimate grievances and allowed for peaceful protests, but that according to Shaaban – Assad’s acknowledgment had not reached international media.

Regarding comments from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé about President Assad having reached the point of no return, Shaaban countered that no foreign minister should have the right to give legitimacy to the President of another country. She said the crisis is in "our" country and not an issue for another country.

After Syrian dissidents meet, real hope for dialogue? 

Syrian opposition members met Monday in Damascus, the first such gathering sanctioned by the government, but activists abroad rejected the move, signaling that President Bashar al-Assad's offer of a national dialogue could widen splits within the opposition.

The meeting, which addressed a political transition to democracy from the four-decade rule of the Assad family, was the first of its kind to gather opposition activists in a public venue, attendees said. It appeared to show the scope for political conversation that more than three months of street protests have forced on Mr. Assad's regime.

The authorities, meanwhile, invited the opposition to a meeting on July 10 to discuss key changes to the constitution amid the wave of unrest that has pitted pro-democracy protesters against security forces since mid-March.

"There are two ways forward, the first a clear and non-negotiable move to a peaceful transition to democracy which would rescue our country and our people," the opposition activist Munzer Khaddam told the meeting. "The alternative is a road that leads into the unknown and which will destroy everyone," he said.

The opposition figures, all independent of any party affiliation, had gathered in a Damascus hotel to discuss a way out of crisis in a public meeting they called unprecedented in five decades of iron-fisted Baath party rule.

The meeting took place with the approval of the president, Bashar Al Assad, leading to criticism that the regime was trying to take on a veneer of openness while continuing its bloody crackdown on dissent. Many regime opponents stayed away for that reason

Syria's refugee flow continues

While the government allowed the Damascus meeting to take place, Syrian security forces continued their crackdown on protesters over the weekend, with another four civilians killed. A protest group called for demonstrators to expect "a volcano" (AFP) later this week in the city of Aleppo. The violence is also affecting neighboring Turkey and Lebanon. More than twelve thousand refugees have crossed into Turkey (National), where the Red Crescent, a local version of the Red Cross, said that seventeen thousand more were waiting to cross the border. Ankara has sharpened its rhetoric (Reuters) against Damascus–publicly nudging President Bashar al-Assad to pass reforms and calling his crackdown "savagery." Hundreds of Syrians have also reportedly crossed into Lebanon (Ennahar).

Yemen; Saleh speech to nation delayed (again) 

More political uncertainty and confusion in Yemen - a regime spokesmen was saying throughout Monday that President Saleh, still recovering in Saudi Arabia from injuries from a bomb blast, would speak to the nation today. Now a "senior official" is saying the State TV broadcast will be "after Thursday".

Abdo al-Janadi, the deputy information minister, said on Tuesday a team from Yemen had traveled to Riyadh to conduct an interview with the president.

"A team from Yemeni television headed to Riyadh on Monday to carry out an interview with the president, expected to be aired after Thursday," al-Janadi said.

"In this interview, Saleh will address the Yemeni people to reassure them about his health." The minister did not discuss the president's condition.

Yemeni troops hunt escaped al Qaeda prisoners

Thousands of soldiers are involved in a hunt for 63 Al Qaeda suspects who broke out of prison in the city of Mukalla, a security official said.

The Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that it captured two of the prisoners who broke out last Wednesday. It also confirmed that three prisoners were killed during the escape.

The official said inmates at Mukalla central security prison are being interrogated to find out how the prisoners were able to escape. "It was a shock to all of us and the 35-meter hole they dug proves that they were planning this for months," the security official said.

The interior ministry warned that some of the escapees were a threat to the stability and safety of the country. It said that nearly a third of the escapees had been arrested after they came back from Iraq, where they had been fighting western troops.

An interior ministry official said: "Some of the prisoners are highly trained in explosives. This could be a negative turning point in the Yemen war on terror if the government is not able to arrest them quickly."

At least seven soldiers were wounded in a small-arms attack by unidentified militants in the Doves Valley area of Abyan governorate on 27 June. At least five militants were killed and an unspecified number of others were wounded in retaliatory fire. Security officials alleged that the militants had links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Yemen: Islamic militants consolidate control in southern cities 

Associated Press: Islamic militants consolidated their hold over a southern city in Yemen, forcing merchants to lower food prices and helping residents who want to flee shelling by government forces outside the city, residents said Monday.

In contrast, militants in control of another nearby city are enforcing a stringent version of Islamic rule, forcing women to stay home and trying to recruit young men to their ranks, according to residents there.

Government forces do not appear to have the will to fight the Islamists, raising fears that al-Qaida's most dangerous wing is making significant gains as the weakened regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh unravels in the face of an array of opponents.

Yemens' desperate economic crisis 

While Yemen’s political crisis stagnates — a popular uprising has stalled and a wounded president has not been seen publicly for weeks — its economic crisis has only grown worse.

The breakdown of public services, shortage of fuel and rising prices for food and water have made life exceedingly difficult for most Yemenis, and threaten to become a humanitarian crisis that could overshadow the political one.

"I sat at home for four days because I couldn’t get gasoline for my car," said Ahmed al-Dubae, a taxi driver. "Those who have money, they can still get around. But those who don’t have money, their only choice is to go home and sleep."

Residents of the capital, Sana, say they cannot remember when living conditions have been this bad, and their patience is running thin. Aside from the fuel crisis, Yemenis say that they are rationing water and food because the prices have soared. Darkness shrouds the capital at night because there is limited electricity and no diesel to fuel generators.

Bahrain: national dialogue – but who will attend?

AFP: Bahrain on Monday announced a high-ranging "national dialogue" opening on July 2, although the largest Shiite opposition bloc said it has not yet decided whether to take part.

"The National Dialogue chairmanship has received views and recommendations" on parliament, the cabinet, electoral districts, citizenship, corruption and sectarian issues, the government said in an English-language statement.

It said "salary increases, raising standards of living, retirement pensions, private sector workers' salaries, youth support, future economic plans ... and media and press legislation" were also on the agenda of the dialogue to be lead by parliament speaker Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Dhahrani.

However, a member of the Islamic National Accord Association (Al-Wefaq), Khalil Marzooq, said his Shiite bloc was undecided over whether to take part.

"Al-Wefaq has not taken an official decision on whether or not it will participate in the national dialogue," Marzooq said in comments published on the group's Facebook page.

Iran "capable of building longer range missiles" 

Associated Press A senior Revolutionary Guard commander says Iran is capable of producing even longer range missiles than the ones it has now but won't make them because Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf are already within its reach.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh says the Guard's arsenal includes missiles with a range of up to 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers), which puts Israel, U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf and parts of southeastern and eastern Europe within Iran's reach.

Hajizadeh claimed on Tuesday that Iran "possess the technology" but has "no intention of producing" the missiles with the over-2,000-kilometer range. He gave no details.

Somalia: mini-drones help tip balance against Shabab 

The African Union force in Mogadishu has received Raven UAVs. These 2 kg (4.4 pound) aircraft are launched by throwing them. A video game-like controller enables the operator to see what's below the UAV for up to 45 minutes per sortie. Replace or recharge the battery, and launch it again. American and other NATO forces have been using Raven in Iraq and Afghanistan for over five years. The AU troops know all about Raven, and had asked for them. This is part of $45 million in military aid the U.S. is providing Uganda and Burundi for their peacekeepers in Somalia.

Outside of Mogadishu, al Shabaab is having increasing problems holding back the Sufi militias of Ahlu Sunna Waljama (ASW). It's gotten to the point where ASW is going from village to village, arresting known al Shabaab supporters. Al Shabaab is also getting more resistance because of attempts to tax farmers and merchants. Al Shabaab is short of cash, and trying to get it from the locals (during the longest drought in decades).

Saudi's lingerie revolution 

On the "ladies' level" at the Kingdom Center shopping mall in the Saudi capital, winds of change for Saudi women are blowing among the racks of bras. Gender barriers are falling among the body-shapers and panties. In what Saudi activists argue is one of several potentially momentous moves this spring and summer to ease some of the toughest strictures in the world upon women, Saudi Arabia says that it is remaking employment regulations - so that women clerks can wait upon female customers in lingerie stores.

Never mind that it took changes in the labor law in 2005-2006, a boycott and online campaigns by Saudi female activists, and, ultimately, personal intervention by King Abdullah himself this month to counter fatwas regarding lingerie clerks, simply so that Saudi women wouldn't have to talk to male clerks about cup sizes and overflowing muffin tops.

The Gates legacy

Petraeus’s fight centered on the insurgents and death squads roaming the streets of Baghdad. Gates’s fight was to buy more time in Washington for the president’s and Petraeus’s war strategy to show results.

His primary weapon was the Defense Department review. In January 2007, as the first 30,000 surge troops were heading toward Iraq, Gates scheduled a September review to evaluate whether the new war strategy and additional troops were producing tangible progress.

He employed the same tactic three years later in Afghanistan when President Obama dispatched 33,000 troops to Afghanistan.

The reviews helped the Bush and Obama administrations determine whether the military was making progress, and they helped to reassure Congress. "They give people a sense that we have actually got our hands on the steering wheel and are not just coasting," Gates said.

The reviews served one other critical purpose: They put off critics agitating for immediate troop reductions and a major scaling back of U.S. goals. In short, they bought Gates’s commanders some precious time.

DHS not right home for "cyber-security" challenges 

Melissa Hathaway, the former acting "cyber czar" under President Barack Obama, seriously questions whether the Department of Homeland Security is up to carrying out proposed new regulatory roles related to cybersecurity at a time when it is still establishing basic core competencies for the agency. Hathaway told national lawmakers who are presently working on legislation regarding the gravest threat to American economic, governmental, and public security-cyber-attack stated, "In my view, inserting DHS into a regulator role in this context would dilute its operational and policy responsibilities and likely detract from the nation’s security posture."(6/25/11. Bloomberg News)

The Senate and House are presently working on developing new comprehensive legislation that would modernize, strengthen, and coordinate cyber defenses. According to Senator Joseph Lieberman, (I-Conn) our national security and public safety are now at risk from new kinds of enemies, – cyber-warriors, cyber spies, cyber terrorists, and cyber criminals. The need for comprehensive legislation is "obvious and urgent".

DHS's Role in Cyber Security Debated: Is It Up to The Job? – Chicago Homeland Security | Examiner.com. See here for full article.

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