June 21st, 2011
09:25 AM ET

Security brief – June 21, 2011

Compiled by Tim Lister

Afghan Drawdown: Betting on the numbers

Taliban talks: another point of friction with Pakistan

Pakistan: senior officer arrested for links with militants – report

Libya: rebel snipers in Tripoli?

Libya: Misrata tribal feud

Libya: UK air force chief warns mission can't extend beyond September

Libya: War Powers spat heats up

Syria: Assad announces amnesty: new protests – and explosions at Turkish border

Afganistan: The Way Forward

"We have made great strides toward achieving the objectives laid out in the mission that the president articulated in December of 2009," spokesman Jay Carney said Monday afternoon. "And he will make his decision based on the need to succeed further in achieving those objectives and to transfer authority gradually, security authority, over to the Afghan national security forces, with an eye to the fact that, as agreed to by NATO in Lisbon, we will eventually transfer full security lead over to the ANSF in 2014."

Nearly three-quarters of Americans polled this month said they support the United States pulling some or all of its forces from Afghanistan.

Military advice at odds with pols? 

Military leaders have been wary of publicly voicing their drawdown recommendations for fear of antagonizing the White House, which has in the past accused commanders of trying to box in the president on earlier troop decisions. But Robert Gates, in his final month as defense secretary, has made clear his preference for a slow withdrawal, a view shared by many field commanders who privately say a precipitous pullout could endanger recent security gains in southern Afghanistan.

Military officials have proposed removing 3,000 to 5,000 of the surge troops in July and as many as 5,000 more after the current fighting season ends this fall.

Mr. Obama is under pressure from key allies in Congress, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, to withdraw as many as 15,000 of the surge troops by year's end. Those advocating a faster pullout say the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Navy SEAL raid last month means the U.S. is accomplishing its goals and can afford a less troop-intensive campaign.

"The president has not yet even made a decision to announce," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. "The president is still in the process of finalizing his decision on the pace and scope of the drawdown that will begin in July of 2011."

Under another option, a third official said, Mr. Obama would announce a final date for the withdrawal of all the surge forces sometime in 2012, but leave the timetable for incremental reductions up to commanders in the field — much as he did in drawing down troops after the surge in Iraq.

Administration officials said Mr. Obama would most likely pull out the entire 30,000 troops by the end of 2012. What is still not known is how soon and how fast, though as the administration’s deliberations wind down, the outlines of the main proposals are becoming clearer.

Some senior White House officials advocate a plan under which 15,000 troops would return by the end of this year and the other 15,000 by the end of 2012, said an official who was briefed on the deliberations. Backers of this timetable include retired Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president’s senior adviser on Afghanistan.

10,000 this year, 10,000 next?

In a speech to be delivered Wednesday, the president is expected to declare that successes in disrupting al Qaeda's ability to stage attacks against the United States allow him to begin reducing troop levels, said the officials, who cautioned that Obama was still "finalizing" his decision.

U.S. officials and outside experts familiar with recent deliberations said Obama was leaning toward withdrawing all the additional troops by the end of 2012 or early 2013. That would leave close to 70,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Withdrawing 10,000 or so troops this year represents a steeper drawdown than General Petraeus and senior Pentagon officials preferred. The Pentagon had been hoping to limit the initial withdrawal to 3,000 to 4,000.

In meetings with Obama last week, Petraeus presented him with multiple drawdown options, along with the risks of each possible course, the officials said. Taking out 10,000 troops over the next six months could create problems for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, especially if other countries, which now contribute about 40,000 troops, pull out more personnel than expected, several officials said.

Pressure on troop # builds in Congress

Senator Robert Menendez, (D-NJ)Clearly, the issue at hand is about terrorism, not insurgency. Terrorism is a borderless issue represented by the unimpeded movement of Taliban into Pakistan and a safe haven in Abbottabad for al-Qaeda"s leader," he argued.

"I rise today in support of a significant and sustained reduction of American combat forces in Afghanistan beginning this July... I believe the time has come to move from a strategy of counter-insurgency to one of counter- terrorism," he said.

"In finding bin laden and bringing him to justice, we have struck a serious blow to the al-Qaeda network that permits us to now reconsider our mission and the wisdom of pursuing a broad and open-ended strategy of nation-building in Afghanistan," he said.

Menendez said the costs of the current strategy are too high in lives lost, futures unraveled by injury, and in real dollars spent: a cost of USD 10 billion a month.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif) @RepGaramendi: "Unless there is a significant drawdown in #Afghanistan, there will be a revolt in #Congress."

Pakistan warns on Taliban peace talks

Pakistan cautioned the United States on Monday that its peace talks with the Taliban might not make headway without clarity on ‘reconcilables’ and without taking Islamabad and Kabul on board about dialogue with the Afghan insurgency leadership.US Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero in his meetings at the Foreign Office was rather curtly told that American unwillingness to share information on the talks was against the spirit of rebuilding modicum of trust.

In a statement on Mr Ruggiero’s meetings, the Foreign Office said: "The importance of clarity and strategic coherence as well as transparency to facilitate the Afghan people and the Afghan government in the process for peace and reconciliation" was underscored.

Mid-ranking US State Department and CIA officials have met Taliban representatives led by Tayyab Agha, a personal aide of Mullah Omar, at least thrice since January 2011 – once in Qatar and twice in Germany.

Pakistani brigadier arrested

Associated Press and BBC report: Pakistan’s army spokesman says a senior officer serving at army headquarters has been detained for suspected links with a banned militant group.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Tuesday that Brig. Ali Khan is being questioned by army authorities over the links. He said Khan was detained recently but did not provide an exact date or specify the banned militant group involved.

Nine-year old girl in Pakistan destined to be suicide bomber

A nine-year-old girl who says she was kidnapped by militants in Pakistan and told to be a suicide bomber was reunited with her parents Tuesday, police said. The girl, Suhana, was kidnapped on Sunday by two men with weapons and two women wearing burqas, she told police. Police did not release her last name.

She was on her way to school when they seized her and drugged her, she said in a news conference broadcast by CNN affiliate GEO TV. Suhana was driven to the Darra Islam checkpoint in Pakistan's Lower Dir district and "told to detonate a suicide vest that the abductors had put on her," district police officer Saleem Marwat told CNN.

Eastern Afghanistan: the big challenge

Since deploying in late April to this small base nestled among jagged mountains, small farms and mud-brick villages, about 10% of the U.S. troops here have been injured by Taliban mortars, small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

"We've had a lot of guys get hurt, but we have a tough AO (area of operations)," said Capt. Brian Kalaher, commander of the outpost, which was named after two servicemembers killed in action.

Much of the attention over the past year has been on southern Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. reinforcements have been deployed and have pushed the Taliban from former strongholds in a visible effort to regain the momentum.

Here in the Pech Valley, U.S. and Afghan forces are fighting an "economy of force" mission, holding the line against the Taliban while building the capability of Afghan security forces.

Afghan aid: wrong approach

Much of the aid effort was premised on the assumption that development would foster stability. Young men with jobs wouldn’t plant roadside bombs. Communities with growing economies would reject the Taliban. This assumption was based on the modern prejudice that bad behavior has material roots. Give people money and jobs and you will improve their character and behavior.

In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, this assumption seems not to be true. A conference of experts brought together last year in Wilton Park in Britain concluded that there is a "surprisingly weak evidence base for the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilization and security objectives" in Afghanistan.

Violence doesn’t stem from poverty. It stems from grudges, tribal dynamics and religious fanaticism — none of which can be ameliorated by building new roads. The poorest parts of the country are not the most violent.

Libya: NATO drone down 

NATO has lost a helicopter drone involved in the Libyan campaign, a NATO spokesman has said. Wing Cmdr Mike Bracken said the aircraft had lost contact with radar at NATO's command center at 0720 GMT.

The helicopter was carrying out reconnaissance over Libya "to monitor [leader Muammar] Gaddafi's forces threatening the civilian population", he said.

NATO defends strike that "killed civilians" 

NATO said Monday that a residential building west of Tripoli was targeted early Monday in an airstrike that the Libyan government alleges killed 15 people, including three children.

NATO said in a statement that, while it could not confirm the casualties, "we would regret any loss of civilian life and we go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties." The organization added that the strike was justified. "This was a precision strike on a legitimate military target - a command-and-control node which was directly involved in coordinating systematic attacks on the Libyan people," NATO said in the statement.

"The facility which was struck was identified as a command-and-control node through rigorous analysis based on persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance carried out over a prolonged period of time," it said.

"This strike will greatly degrade the Gadhafi regime forces' ability to carry on their barbaric assault against the Libyan people," said NATO Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, referring to the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

**Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday civilian deaths pose a risk to the NATO-led military alliance. "NATO is endangering its credibility; we cannot risk killing civilians," Frattini told reporters before an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg to discuss ways to aid rebels.

The Arab League condemned the loss of life in Sunday's incident. "When the Arab League agreed on the idea of having a no-fly zone over Libya it was to protect civilians but when civilians get killed this has to be condemned with the harshest of statements," said Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Helli.

Death of Tripoli guard: rebel sniper?

Reports that a guard at the hotel housing foreign journalists here had been fatally shot sent a tremor of anxiety through the Qaddafi government’s media operation on Monday.

While Qaddafi loyalists said the guard accidentally shot himself with his own weapon while eating a late dinner at the end of the hotel two days earlier, at least two people working for the government said on the condition of anonymity that he was killed by rebel snipers.

The guard had been assigned to protect a prominent state television commentator known for his outspoken criticism of the rebels. The commentator, Yousef Shakeer, had taken refuge with his family inside the safety of the hotel because of rebel death threats against him.

Misrata tribal feud suggests troubles ahead

"Traitors keep out," reads graffiti at the entrance of a housing project in an impoverished neighborhood of Misrata, the rebel-held city grappling with the physical and emotional scars of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's siege since March.

A group of men sipping tea in the courtyard on a recent afternoon say the "traitors" are those who hail from Tawergha, a small town 25 miles to the south inhabited mostly by black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the slave trade.

Many Misratans are convinced that Tawerghans were responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during their city's siege, including allegedly raping women in front of their relatives and helping Gadhafi forces identify and kidnap rebel sympathizers and their families.

The feud between Misrata and Tawergha offers a stark example of the challenges Libya will face in reconciling communities that found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict when Col. Gadhafi leaves power.

UK air chief warns Libya campaign "overstretches" force

Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant has told MPs that intense air operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East are placing a "huge" demand on equipment and personnel.

In a briefing paper delivered to senior politicians and obtained by The Daily Telegraph, the RAF’s second in command said morale among airmen was "fragile" and their fighting spirit was threatened by being overworked.

Many areas of the RAF were "running hot", he warned, while the servicemen’s sense that the nation valued their efforts was being undermined by the Coalition’s defense cuts.

The air force was also now finding it difficult to recruit staff, he said, with many specialties understaffed by up to a quarter. In his conclusion, Air Chief Marshal Bryant warned that the ability of the RAF to deal with unforeseen emergencies would be rapidly "eroded" if the Libyan campaign went beyond September.

Libyan rebel leader in China

Engaging Libya's powerful opposition will be important in resolving the crisis in the North African country, China said Tuesday, underscoring Beijing's growing role as mediator and delivering another setback to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks as Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril began a two-day visit to Beijing.

Jibril chairs the executive board of the Transitional National Council, the umbrella organization of rebel groups trying to unseat Gadhafi. China stayed on the sidelines for months after the revolt against Gadhafi's government erupted in mid-February, but has recently stepped up efforts to promote a settlement.

Hong said the council had "already become an important political power in Libya,"

War Powers debate/Congressional Votes planned:

(CNN)- With bipartisan frustration mounting in Congress over the president's handling of military action in Libya, House Republican leaders are planning to hold votes this week to use the power of the purse to limit the mission.

House GOP sources tell CNN that one potential option is a vote to prohibit funding for any ground troops in Libya. Though there are no U.S. ground troops currently committed there, the House GOP sources say this would be one way to prevent the mission from escalating, and at the same time give lawmakers a chance to express their unhappiness.

Politico adds: One of the new options under review is a stand-alone Libya bill, but an amendment to the 2012 Defense appropriations bill, which comes to the floor later this week, is still under consideration.

The struggle over Libya is coming to a head now because Obama has informed Congress that he believes that the U.S. engagement does not rise to the level of needing congressional authorization under the 1973 War Powers Act, and because the House is set to debate next year’s Pentagon spending bill, a magnet for at least one Libya-defunding amendment.

Under the War Powers law, the president is required to "terminate any use of United States Armed Forces" when they have been introduced into "hostilities," or entered "into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation" if Congress has not approved of a military action through either a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force. The window for that approval is 92 days, including an initial 48-hour reporting period. The U.S. first fired missile strikes on Libya on March 20.

Danger money = war? 

The Defense Department decided in April to pay an extra $225 a month in "imminent danger pay" to service members who fly planes over Libya or serve on ships within 110 nautical miles of its shores.

That means the Pentagon has decided that troops in those places are "subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger because of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions." There are no U.S. ground troops in Libya.

Internal legal debate over War Powers

From CNN’s Dan Lothian...There was a process in which a variety of views were expressed and considered by the President, and the President made the decision, as was appropriate for him to do. The WPR has been subject to intense debate since it first enacted in 1973, and even critics of the Administration's position concede the legitimacy of different points of view. There was a full airing of views within the Administration and a robust process that led the President to his view that the WPR's termination provision did not apply here. It should come as no surprise that there would be some disagreements, even within an administration, regarding the application of a statute that is nearly 40 years old to a unique and evolving conflict. That discussion is ordinary and healthy.

TNC not making oil sales 

From State Department: "We are not aware of any additional oil sales since May 25, when a U.S. Oil Refiner, Tesoro, announced that it had purchased cargo aboard a tanker chartered by the Swiss oil trading company Vitol. On June 8, the MT EQUATOR, a Liberian flagged tanker, arrived at the Single Point Mooring in Barbers Point, Hawaii, delivering approximately 1.2M barrels of Libyan crude oil sold by the Transitional National Council (TNC). This cargo is the first confirmed cargo purchased from the Libyan TNC.

The United States has strongly encouraged sales of oil by the TNC to help meet the needs of the Libyan people.

Syria: US ambassador makes trip north 

US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is on a Syrian government-organized mission to the North of the country along the border with Turkey.

Reports are that the mission was taken to the town of Jisr al Shoughr where he was shown a so called ‘mass grave’ of Syrian soldiers and viewed how deserted the town is after a majority of residents fled the unrest.

AFP reporting gunshots and explosions were heard from the Syrian side of the border, where thousands of fleeing people have massed.

Syria: ICRC secures access

After talks with the Syrian prime Adel Safar and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, issued this statement:

The discussions focused exclusively on humanitarian issues and were frank and operational. The Syrian officials were receptive, and agreed to give the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent wider access to areas of unrest. I will closely monitor how this understanding is put into practice.

After Assad speech 

From CNN's Tim Lister: Syrian officials had dubbed it as a landmark speech - one that would be the blueprint for reform and begin a national dialogue.

As it turned out, President Bashar al-Assad's hour-long address at Damascus University Monday seemed more a reworking of previous promises to create committees that would study changes to the constitution, with vague hints that opposition parties would be tolerated. And rather than placating the growing opposition to the regime, it appears to have emboldened it.

One popular tweet in the immediate aftermath read: "Assad speech arithmetic. Number of times each word used: Freedom: 1; Conspiracy: 8; Vandals: 18." Another scorned the Syrian leader: "Only #Assad can turn a Monday into a Friday. Protests reported everywhere in #Syria."

Ausama Monajed, an activist in the U.K., told CNN: "People are very disappointed, yet happy that Assad gave another push to the uprising by saying the wrong things!"

Wall Street Journal reports: Mr. Assad said his government would continue to review the possibility of reforms to Syria's constitution—which gives his ruling Baath party a monopoly on political power—and of changes to laws governing parliamentary elections and the media. He suggested the constitution could be redrafted entirely if a national dialogue produced a consensus. The speech was otherwise short on specifics and he didn't announce new reforms.

The speech failed to win over domestic and foreign critics and sparked further protests across the country. The Local Coordinating Committees, a network of Syrian activists leading the organization of protests, slammed the speech as a repetition of "unfulfilled promises, veiled or direct threats and false accusations."

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said what is important now is "action, not words." She dismissed the Syrian leader’s suggestion that foreigners were largely behind the weeks of violence by security forces that has killed some 1,400 people.

"He spends a lot of time blaming foreign instigators, rather than appreciating that his own people are simply disgusted by a regime that supports itself through repression, corruption and fear," said Nuland. "We’d also note that the vast majority of those innocents killed in Syria were at the hands of security forces."

Roula Khalaf in the FT: In the Arab world, one scenario that has often been mooted – though it would seem improbable – is that Mr Assad could get rid of those closest to him and seek a compromise solution with the protest movement.

Turkey, a frustrated ally that has taken in thousands of Syrian refugees, is believed to be pressing for a series of reforms that would isolate family members responsible for security and corruption and at least draw some of the protesters into a negotiated deal.

Most opposition activists, however, say the time for Mr Assad to lead a political reform process has passed – any moves would be the beginnings of a transition away from him, a prospect that he will resist at all cost.

If the confrontation continues and Alawite officers stick with the ruling family, the unrest could become "polarised along confessional and ethnic lines, and lead to a drawn-out civil war and the collapse of the state", says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

President Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria. Turkey was disappointed by Assad's speech

Leading daily Hurriyet: Diplomats said many of the reforms Assad promised were in line with what Ankara had already suggested to Damascus, but added that Assad's accusation that opposition groups were plotting with foreign powers, as well as the vagueness of his reform plan, were negative.

"Assad will have to work with these groups, therefore his description of the opposition is not right," a diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday. "This is not a statement that might build a climate of confidence between rival groups"...

Syrian men vow to marry women raped by security forces 

A group of men have committed themselves to an unlikely way of challenging the violence that has swept Syria in recent months, pledging to marry women they have never met.

In this village near the Turkish border, Syrians fleeing their country’s security forces have established a makeshift tent city. Hundreds of families, bearing only what they could fit in their cars, eagerly hope for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, horror stories swirl about what has befallen the towns and villages they call home.

One involves four sisters, from the nearby town of Sumeriya, who were allegedly raped by pro-government Shabiha militiamen.

"It made us so mad. Such an injustice. We have decided, we will marry them," said Ibrahim Kayyis, a 32-year-old baker from Jisr al-Shugour, a town that was stormed by troops.

To reclaim their "honor," families in Syria have been known to kill raped female members. Even if families allow such women to live, they are not eligible to marry.

U.S. has intercepts showing Iranian involvement in Syria

From CNN's Barbara Starr As violence has mounted in Syria, US. officials say there is growing evidence that Iran, which has long considered Syria almost a satellite state, is stepping up its efforts to influence what is happening inside the country. One U.S. official tells CNN there are continuing electronic intercepts that clearly show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps involvement in Syria during the recent violence that point to the increased cooperation. The U.S. believes an increased number Iranian personnel are moving in and out of Damascus, the official said, and potentially assisting in training Syrian forces and facilitating weapons flows which the official says "continue unchecked." Another U.S. official confirms that Iran has supplied Syria with riot control gear.

Yemen – US policy missing the point? 

Some Yemen watchers think the U.S. is too singularly focused on security in the country.

"We have a Saudi policy and we have an al-Qaida policy. We don't really have a Yemen policy," said Sheila Carapico, a Yemen expert who teaches at the American University in Cairo. "I'd like to see us working the civilian side as well as the military and the CIA side."

Most Yemenis have no patience with al-Qaida ... But there is a way of wielding too much American force which can create sympathy where none existed before.

Carapico calls the jihadist threat exaggerated and worries that the current U.S. policy may only fuel jihadist migration to Yemen and undermine long-term U.S. interests in the country.

"If you're a disgruntled jihadist in Pakistan or Somalia or elsewhere, you really might decide to go to Yemen and their numbers appear, by all accounts, to have increased during the period of the protests," Carapico said. "Most Yemenis have no patience with al-Qaida or with the jihadist fringe. But there is a way of wielding too much American force which can create sympathy where none existed before." And we certainly haven't lifted a finger to kind of further a diplomatic, negotiated outcome."

Carapico says the irony is that Yemen's grassroots uprising — which is arguably one of the most broad and diverse among the Arab Spring revolts — risks being undermined by U.S. diplomatic deference to the oil-rich Saudi monarchy and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Tunisian leader sentenced in absentia

A Tunisian court on Monday sentenced ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to 35 years of imprisonment on charges of corruption, drug smuggling and theft.

Ben Ali's trial, along with the trial of his wife, began this week in absentia after the dictator fled to Saudi Arabia following January’s popular uprising, which overthrew Ben Ali from more than two decades of rule.

In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, the presiding judge ordered the couple to pay a fine of $66 million. The court will announce its verdict on charges like illegal possession of drugs and weapons on June 30.

However, Ben Ali had denied all charges. On Monday, just hours before his trial, Ben Ali had said that his family fled to Saudi Arabia with him for safety reasons, adding that he wanted to come back immediately but the plane disobeyed his instructions and left without him.

Senate looks at cybersecurity 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will wade into the cybersecurity debate Tuesday with a hearing on the Obama administration's legislative proposal in front of the subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). The Judiciary Committee is just one of several in the upper chamber that will take part in the upcoming negotiations over comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, which is expected to borrow heavily from the White House proposal unveiled last month.

The plan would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of safeguarding firms deemed critical infrastructure and vital to national security. The hearing will focus on those elements within the committee's jurisdiction: a national data breach notification standard, increased criminal penalties for hackers, and voluntary sharing of information on cybersecurity.

Pentagon shares cyber attack intel with defense contractors

The Pentagon has begun sharing intelligence with defense contractors on growing threats posed by cyber-attacks after a recent strike against networks of Lockheed Martin.

The new program is called the Defense Industrial Base Cyber Pilot and was disclosed by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn during a speech in Paris last week.

"The threat intelligence provided by the government is helping the companies themselves, or the Internet service providers working on their behalf, to identify and stop malicious activity within their networks," Lynn said.

The program was developed through cooperation between the Pentagon and DHS and includes information on threats and plans on how to build network defenses against attacks. Lynn said the goal of the program is to strengthen cyberdefenses within defense companies

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