June 10th, 2011
08:15 AM ET

Security Brief – Friday, June 10

Compiled by CNN's Tim Lister

Today's Security Brief includes:

* Protests throughout Syria: security forces open fire in Daraa
* More Syrians flee to Turkey as military close in on restive town
* Syrian TV starts covering the protests – in its own way
* Going after Gadhafi? Different views at NATO
* Libya fighting: heavy clashes around Misrata
* Gates decries “dismal future” for “two-tiered” NATO without urgent change
* Yemen: Friday protests in full swing as Saleh son stays put
* Bahrain: U.S. 'softly softly' approach
* Rana trial: what we learned about Pakistan’s ISI and terrorism

Syrian military begin operation in north; refugee exodus continues

From CNN’s Ivan Watson at the border: Syrian state television announced on Friday that the military launched an operation to re-take the rebellious northern border town of Jisr Al-Shugur. Meanwhile, Syrian refugees and opposition activists who fled the town fearing a government attack said they heard tanks firing their cannons as they advanced through villages while approaching Jisr Al-Shugur.
“In response to the appeal from the families, units of the Syrian military began implementing its function to restore security in Jisr Al-Shugur and surrounding villages and arresting a number of militants,” Syrian state TV announced in a banner Friday morning.
“They are attacking the village of Sirmaniya with tanks,” said opposition activist Yusuf Mohamad Ali Hassan in a phone call to CNN. Sirmaniya is a village less than 10 kilometers southwest of Jisr Al-Shugur. From the hilltop where he was standing, Ali Hassan said he could see black smoke rising, and hear tank cannons firing several times a minute.
The military advance is spreading panic throughout the civilian population. Residents say they have evacuated women and children from Jisr Al-Shigur in recent days. More than 2,400 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey and humanitarian workers fear many more are on the way.

*At least 2,792 Syrian refugees have reached Turkey so far, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolian Agency said Friday. About 100 Syrians are in hospitals and another tent city is set up for 5,000 in the border town of Altinozu, Anatolia reported.

Protests throughout Syria Friday – and Syrian TV is reporting them

Let the media war begin. Syrian TV has a new approach to the anti-government protests. Instead of ignoring them it is now covering them but in a very negative way… Basically: “The good are the security forces, the bad or those who are being misled are the young men and the ugly are the deviant groups and the snipers who are trying to promote their own radical agenda.” Houda Deeb, the Syrian TV reporter from Homs, said there were “gatherings in Homs” and that “there are snipers who are shooting at the military”. It says that the protesters are repeating “disgraceful chants”. Syrian TV reporter from Aleppo said that “some citizens received threats that they will be targeted if they don’t go in demonstrations.” Syria TV adds that “hundreds of gunmen are spreading in Banch and Taftaz in edleb terrorizing the civilian population.”

Al Jazeera is reporting based on eyewitnesses’ accounts that there are now demos in the neighborhood of Aisha River in Damascus, Aleppo & Homs. According to AlJazeera, one eyewitness describes Homs as a real battlefield.

Reuters reporting; Syrian forces on Friday fired at several thousand pro-democracy protesters who defied a heavy security presence in the southern city of Deraa, injuring scores, three witnesses said.

More military defections in Syria?

New on YouTube, an apparently senior officer announces his defection from the Syrian Army:

"I am Hussein Harmoush , lieutenant colonel from the 11th Battalion. I declare that I have defected from the army with some other troops from the military. Our current mission is to protect un-armed protestors who are asking for freedom and democracy.” He talks about “the mass graves of Jisr Al-Shugur on June 4th, 2011. I want to deliver a message. The first message, I am addressing the generals and commanders in the Syrian armed forces. You have to protect citizens and both private and public property and government buildings from the death squads, which are led by Bashar al Assad and his regime.”

Another teenage victim of torture?

From CNN’s Arwa Damon: A second Syrian teenager has been returned to his parents - lifeless, battered and, according to activists, a victim of torture. A video released Thursday by activists includes a woman wailing as a body is unwrapped at the hospital in Daraa.

"My son, it's my son," the voice cries out. "This scar here, I swear its my son, I stitched this cut on him when he was little."

Turkey loses patience with Assad

Turkey decried the Syrian government's unceasing crackdown on protesters as “inhumane” in its harshest criticism since the start of the unrest in mid-March at a time when thousands of Syrians started to pour into Turkey, fleeing the escalating violence in towns near the Turkish border. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said earlier last month that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a “good friend of mine,” slammed the crackdown on protesters by Syrian authorities on Thursday during a televised interview and said the “barbarity cannot be digested.” Erdoğan's remarks are the biggest departure from his earlier cautious approach in handling unrest in Syria, with which his government has worked out a historic reconciliation over the past few years.

Sadly, their actions are inhumane," Erdoğan said, referring to Maher Assad and his team, which has been ferocious in crushing the dissent. "Now the barbarity… Now think [soldiers] pose [for a photo] in such an ugly way at the bedside of women who they killed… that these images cannot be digested," Erdoğan said.

Going after Gadhafi? Or not?

From CNN National Security Contributor, Fran Townsend….

A U.N. resolution justifies the targeting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a senior NATO military official with operational knowledge of the Libya mission told CNN Thursday.

Asked by CNN whether Gadhafi was being targeted, the NATO official declined to give a direct answer. The resolution applies to Gadhafi because, as head of the military, he is part of the control and command structure and therefore a legitimate target, the official said.

NATO has been ramping up pressure on the regime, employing helicopters last weekend for the first time against Gadhafi's forces. Explosions are heard often in Tripoli, evidence of allied air strikes.

NATO began bombing Libya on March 31, under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians who have been targeted by Gadhafi's military.

Resolution 1973 said allied forces could use "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

NATO response on CNN’s American Morning: “We are targeting the critical military capabilities that are the nerve center of Gadhafi's kill chain, the war machine that has been consistently attacking relentlessly attacking and systematically attacking civilians in Libya….but NATO has made very clear it has three very clear military objectives and those are first an end to all attacks against civilians and civilian populated centers. secondly, the withdraw of all of the Gadhafi regime troops and mercenaries to barracks and bases - bare racks and bases, and the humanitarian access to people who need it across Libya.

Fran Townsend on AC360 on her conversation with a senior NATO official: “If our mission, under the u.n. resolution, is to protect civilians and Gadhafi is the commander in chief, we take all sorts of measures to knock out their infrastructure, their military capabilities so they can't attack civilians. The commander in chief of the military that's doing these attacks is a legitimate target. - I asked a second time, are you saying you're targeting Gadhafi? - He said, I'm saying that i think under the u.n. resolution he's a legitimate target. Now, this is a single military official in nato.

And Wesley Clark’s take: “It's perfectly logical. The orders to attack civilians emanate from a chain of command. Chain of command has operation centers and operations personnel. It has a communications means to convey those orders to the troops. And so if you're and so if you can attack the troops, you can attack the communications means. If you can attack the communication means, you can attack the command and control. And if you attack the command and control, you can attack the commander.”

NATO air strikes where and what – latest

From the Associated Press: NATO airstrikes rattled the Libyan capital Thursday with clusters of bombing runs believed to have targeted the outskirts of Tripoli. By nightfall Thursday, a total of 14 air attacks had been carried out, considerably fewer than Tuesday. There were eight explosions in a first series of strikes on Thursday and hours later, the sound of six more airstrikes boomed in the distance. The bombing continued early Friday as three fresh strikes sent plumes of smoke over Tripoli.

Reuters: Libyan state television reported on Thursday that the NATO-led military alliance had hit civilian and military targets in the town of Zuwarah, 120 km west of the capital Tripoli. Rebels said pro-Gaddafi forces shelled their positions in the Western Mountains region on Thursday night, adding NATO had not been doing enough to confront the renewed attacks. "They (Gaddafi forces) are shelling Zintan (160 kilometres southwest of Tripoli) with Grad missiles," said rebel spokesman Abdulrahman late on Thursday. "There have been no NATO air strikes for a week."

UK MoD says Apache helicopters have been in action around Misrata:

“Off Misrata, HMS Ocean launched British Army Apache helicopters to attack a regime military communications installation and multiple rocket launcher which had been identified by NATO surveillance operations. Both targets were destroyed and the helicopters returned safely to Ocean.”

Russia continues diplomatic mediation

Russia's Africa envoy said on Friday that there was still a chance for talks between Libya's warring sides and announced plans to travel to Tripoli soon to

meet members of Muammar Gaddafi's government. Mikhail Margelov spoke after meeting Libyan rebel leaders in Benghazi and a cousin of Gaddafi in Cairo this week as part of a mediation effort by Russia.

Yemen – pro and anti-Saleh demos resume

From CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom: In Sana’a – there are anti govt and pro govt demonstrations that are happening now. According to eyewitnesses: There are hundreds of thousands of anti-govt demonstrators out in and around the city’s Change Square. Anti-govt demonstrators can be heard chanting, “Saleh will fall” and “The end is near for Saleh” There are over 100,000 pro-govt demonstrators in and around the city’s Sabe’en Square, which is by the Presidential Palace. Pro-govt demonstrators can be seen holding up pictures of the president and chanting, “we are with you, Saleh”

Yemen: Saleh’s son very much in the picture

The son, Ahmed Ali, has moved into the presidential palace, while Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the acting head of state, remains in his office and rarely visits the palace, U.S. and Yemeni officials said. Neither Ahmed nor his three cousins, who together control much of Yemen’s military and security forces, have left their positions to visit Saleh in Saudi Arabia, where he is being treated for severe burn and shrapnel wounds sustained from an attack on the palace Friday.

For many Yemenis, that has sent a clear signal that Saleh and his relatives are intent on preserving his rule in his absence, even as calls mount from opposition groups and the international community for a swift transition of power. “Power, wealth and intelligence are all in the hands of the president’s son and nephews,” said Muhammed Qahtan, a senior opposition leader. “They are the reasons that are preventing the vice president and the government from firing the president.”

Yemen: the water crisis

Besides cholera outbreaks in the south, available drinking water in the mountainous areas, normally drawn from springs, has decreased to less than a quart per person each day. Aquifers are being mined such that groundwater levels have fallen by 10-20 feet every year. One of the most important contributing factors for water depletion is irrigation (artificial watering) of khat, used to make a drug for chewing and taking up some 27-30% of Yemen's ground water supply. In fact, many speculate that Sanaa could be the first capital city in the world to run out of water.

Afghanistan: Plans on track for security transfer

Reuters reports: Plans are on track for Afghan forces to take charge of security in seven areas of Afghanistan from late July with a second phase of the handover starting in December, NATO commanders said on Thursday. Major-General Tim Evans, a senior British officer with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), on a video link from Afghanistan, said the first set of areas would start transferring from ISAF to Afghan control on July 20. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in March that seven areas would be included in the initial phase of transition, the first step in a long process due to end with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

*Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday flew into Pakistan for talks likely to focus on stepping up efforts to broker peace with the Taliban after nearly a decade of conflict in both countries. The visit will also test relations between Kabul and Islamabad, which became more tense after Afghanistan seized on the bin Laden raid as proof that the “war on terror” would be better fought in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.

Gates warns NATO of a dismal future without urgent change

Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says NATO has become a "two-tiered" alliance poorly equipped to deal with challenges, and with members either unable or unwilling to carry out agreed missions in Afghanistan and Libya.

In his farewell speech Friday to the NATO Council in Brussels, Gates pulled few punches in listing the shortcomings of the alliance.

In particular, he drew a contrast between those members "willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership ... but don't want to share the risks and the costs."

"This is no longer a hypothetical worry," he said. "We are there today, and it is unacceptable."

Panetta non-committal on troop reductions

Mr. Panetta did say during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he agreed with a recent statement by Mr. Obama that the troop withdrawals should be “significant.” But Mr. Panetta, who would be expected to publicly echo the president, did not define “significant” or offer any hint of his own opinion about how many troops should come home in July, when he is scheduled to be in his new office at the Pentagon. Mr. Panetta said the country’s relationship with Pakistan was “one of the most critical, and yet one of the most complicated and frustrating relationships that we have.” He added that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remained a concern because of “the danger that those nukes could wind up in the wrong hands.”

Bill Bennett comments on CNN.com: As Kimberly and Frederick Kagan have recently pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, we have done reasonably well in Kabul and the coalition has been "reasonably effective" in the south. But as we near the July date set by the president to begin withdrawals, we are simply not ready to withdraw in substantial numbers, certainly not if Afghanistan is still seen as an important war front.

And that is what remains the important question. Is the war there important? Abraham Lincoln was right: "Public opinion in this country is everything," and we have not had a majority who've thought the war was either important or worthwhile in a very long time.

Before we begin the July withdrawals that again have sparked a difference of opinion between the military leaders and the White House, it is important that the rest of America's public opinion is solidified. We need to hear from the president on his views and plans for Afghanistan. And we should have congressional hearings on all that has been accomplished there, what remains to be accomplished, whether the rules of engagement are sufficient to the task, and what we should define as a victory in Afghanistan.

Rana trial: what we learned about the ISI and terrorism

Jurors found Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana guilty on two counts of aiding a terrorist organization, but acquitted him on a charge connecting him to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in India.

Rana was convicted on one count of conspiracy to provide material support in a planned attack against a newspaper in Denmark. He also was found guilty of providing material support to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.

He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on the two counts combined, and remains in federal custody without bond, according to the Justice Department. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ordered the defense to file post-trial motions by August 15. No sentencing date was set.

ProPublica, which has followed the Headley and Rana cases closely, offers this analysis: It did not answer questions about whether Sajid Mir, a Lashkar mastermind caught on tape directing the slaughter in Mumbai by phone, was once a Pakistani military officer. It did not explore the extent to which ISI chiefs beyond Headley's handler, known only as Major Iqbal, were aware of the Mumbai plot, which ultimately killed 166 people. Headley testified that he believed top ISI leadership was not aware, but he also said he thought Iqbal's commanding officer and his unit of the spy agency knew about the operation.

Finally, prosecutors managed to skirt two delicate and interconnected issues that the U.S. government refuses to discuss: Headley's role as a U.S. informant [5] and the failure of the FBI to stop his terrorist activity despite at least six warnings [6] during seven years. Headley revealed that he was simultaneously an extremist and an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration for at least two years, and that he gathered counterterror intelligence as well as doing anti-drug work.

Headley testified that he stopped working for the DEA in September 2002, but that did not change contradictions and gaps in the U.S. government's official version. The DEA has stated that he was deactivated in early 2002, while other agencies have said he remained an informant until as late as 2005. The lack of clarity reinforces suspicions that the U.S. government knew more about Headley than it has revealed and that his role as an informant shielded him from more aggressive scrutiny in the years before his arrest in October 2009.

US “softly-softly” on Bahrain

Following Obama’s meeting with the Crown Prince and other contacts: The meetings represent "a shift in tone and indicate a softening of the U.S. stance towards Bahrain," says Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center, "and show that the U.S. simply isn't serious about putting real sustained pressure on the regime right now." The effect of Tuesday's visit has been to put a band-aid on tensions between the two countries and is, Hamid says, "a green light" for Bahrain's government to go about its business without criticism or interference from the U.S. That business includes both the country's re-opening to international commerce scared off by the turmoil of the spring, and the final stages of a months-long violent crackdown on protesters, which this week saw security forces repeatedly attack Shi'a enclaves with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Bahrain accepts cancellation of F1 race

Bahrain Grand Prix organisers accepted the cancellation of their postponed Formula One race on Thursday after teams objected to it being rescheduled in October. "Whilst Bahrain would have been delighted to see the Grand Prix progress on October 30th ... it has been made clear that this fixture cannot progress and we fully respect that decision," circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani said in a statement.

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