Compiled by Tim Lister
Syria: widespread protests and heavy security presence nationwide; Hama on lockdown
Clinton calls on allies to step up pressure on Assad
Libya: regime denies death of Gadhafi son
Tensions among Libyan rebel leadership
Afghanistan: US forces return to violent east
Afghanistan: US aid effort needs revamping – report
Al Qaeda eyes Sahara opportunities
New confrontation looms in Yemen
Defense cuts: impact on civilian jobs, special ops and missile defense
Syria protests: Hama pummeled
Reports from opposition activists and human rights groups say there are widespread protests underway in Syria Friday, including in Homs, Deraa and suburbs of Damascus. There is a very large security presence on the streets of many cities, especially in and around the capital. The city of Hama, where dozens are reported dead after the military moved in, is reported largely deserted....and without water, power or much food....
A resident of the besieged city of Hama says troops have shelled several neighborhoods overnight and are preventing food supplies from entering residential areas. The man told the Associated Press the attacks started at dawn and that he saw 20 tanks in the central Assi square. The latest shelling comes as Syrians prepare for mass protests after the first Friday prayers in Ramadan.
At least 109 people died in and around Hama, said Avaaz, a global activist group, citing a medical source. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said 30 people were killed Wednesday.
"The brutality continues in Hama on the fourth day of Ramadan. Communication with the city and surrounding area is very difficult as the electricity supply has been cut off," Avaaz said.
The activist group, citing the medical source, said scores more were wounded. "Bodies are lying in the streets as ambulances and private vehicles are unable to get through," the group said.
Syrian state TV has broadcast new images from inside the besieged city of Hama, showing rubble-strewn streets and wrecked buildings.
The news report said Syrian troops had put down an armed rebellion and showed pictures of armed men hiding behind cars and claimed the army had quelled a rebellion.
The report showed deserted streets with flimsy barricades and piles of rubble. Later, the reporter went into buildings that appeared to have been destroyed in an explosion.
YouTube videos of protests:
The funeral of Khaled Alfakhani became a demonstration at Abd Alkareem Alrfaee mosque in Kafrsooseh, Damascus. This video shows the scene inside the mosque while security forces surrounded it.
This video shows protests at the Shami mosque in the Zahraa neighbourhood of Aleppo, while at a huge demonstration in Idlib the people chant "The people and the army are one hand." The caption reads: "Men maintain order as demonstrators protest peacefully in Idlib for Ramadan." The police do not seem to be confronting the protesters.
Clinton: "More than 2,000 dead in Syria"
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that U.S. officials believe more than 2,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government’s months-long crackdown on dissent. Meeting her Canadian counterpart, Clinton appealed for a "louder, more effective" international response to the violence.
But she said it will take more to stop the killing and that European and Arab countries need to join the United States in imposing tougher sanctions and other penalties against the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and made the following points:
1) Why does the United States not call for Assad's departure, given that we did call for that of our long-time ally Hosni Mubarak? Doesn't the refusal to call for an end to the Assad mafia's rule in Syria convey the wrong message to Syrians — a message of uncertainty, wavering, and indecision? Is it not clear to you that the Assad family must have zero role in Syria's future if the country is ever to emerge from the current nightmare? If that is clear, why not say it?
2) Doesn't it seem that the longer the violence goes on the greater the chance of sectarian conflict? If that is so, isn't the obvious conclusion that Assad must go sooner rather than later? Again, then why not say so?
US adds another to Syrian sanctions list
By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The United States imposed sanctions Thursday against a Syrian businessman and member of parliament with close ties to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and members of his family.
According to the Treasury Department, the sanctions against Muhammed Hamsho prohibit any U.S. citizen from engaging in commercial or financial interactions with Hamsho. They also freeze any of his assets currently held in U.S. jurisdiction.
"Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar al-Asad, Mahir al-Asad and others responsible for the Syrian government's violence and intimidation against the Syrian people," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a press release announcing the sanctions.
Afghanistan: US forces return to violent east
Less than six months after mostly abandoning the deadly Pech Valley in what U.S. military officials dubbed a "realignment" of forces in eastern Afghanistan, the Army has begun rebuilding its presence in the heart of Kunar province. Since the start of the Afghan war, more than 100 American troops have been killed in mountainous terrain so treacherous that previous U.S. commanders openly questioned the need to secure such a remote region.
But in late July, the first wave of troops from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division arrived at Nangalam Base, formerly known as Forward Operating Base Blessing and once the hub of U.S. military operations in the valley.
By September, a company of soldiers from the division’s 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment will occupy the post
A NATO service member was killed in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday in an apparent "rogue" shooting by a man dressed as an Afghan policeman and another was killed elsewhere in the region by insurgents, the coalition said. The deaths brought to at least four the number of NATO troops killed in a bloody 24 hours in one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas.
With violence flaring across the country since the first phase of a security transition began last month, an Afghan security official was also killed by a car bomb in the northeastern city of Kunduz, officials said.
IED deaths in Afghanistan spike
With more than 1,600 strikes by roadside bombs in June alone in Afghanistan, insurgents' use of what the military long-ago dubbed "improvised explosive device," or IED, seems to have spiked to an all-time high, the National Journal reports.
The low-tech, easily-manufactured and used bombs are the primary cause of fatalities among U.S. and coalition troops, and increasing in use because of the ease in which the materials can be ferried into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan, the publication reports.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Army began sending "double-V hull" Stryker armored personnel carriers to Afghanistan in hopes the new design will better protect troops against deadly roadside bombs.
Afghanistan looks to include Pakistan in Taliban dialogue
Afghanistan has agreed to include Pakistan in the dialogue with the Taliban in its efforts to move forward on the national reconciliation process aimed at stabilizing the Afghan society and ensuring peace in the region.Talking to The Express Tribune on Wednesday, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Janan Musazai said that Kabul needs Pakistan’s urgent support and wants Islamabad to take "practical steps" in supporting the reconciliation process in the war-torn country, especially in view of the withdrawal of foreign forces, which US officials say is scheduled to take place by around 2014.
Musazai, who was in Islamabad as part of an Afghan delegation for a trilateral meeting, denied media reports speculating that little progress had been made in the talks. "Many issues with Pakistan have been resolved. Both the countries have reached a better understanding of the matter," he said.
Aid in Afghanistan needs overhaul – ICG
From CNN's Elise Labott
As the 10-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, approaches, a major think tank is warning the decade-long effort in Afghanistan has failed to stabilize the country and will continue to falter without a major overhaul in international assistance.
In a report released Thursday, the International Crisis Group says that strategies have focused too much on military objectives and not enough on development - for example, the counter-insurgency military strategy adopted in the 2009 troop surge to fight the expanding Taliban insurgency has not achieved a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan.
Even as the international community plans to hand over security to the Afghans and withdraw all foreign forces by the end of 2014, the report warns "there is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will stabilize the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programs. Nor will the Afghan state be in a position by 2015 to provide basic services to its citizens, further undermining domestic stability."
Afghans working for US face long visa waits
Thousands of Afghans who have worked with American troops and diplomats here, often at great risk, have become stranded for years in a murky wait to emigrate to the United States, despite government efforts to speed them from potential threats in Afghanistan.
One American initiative to substantially increase the number of visas available to Afghan workers, the Afghan Allies program, has fallen especially short of its goals. Since the program began in 2009, about 2,300 Afghans have applied for those visas, but the American Embassy in Kabul has finished reviewing only two cases. One was rejected.
"The record is not great," said David D. Pearce, assistant chief of mission at the embassy. He said that officials had asked Washington for more resources and that the new ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, had placed a renewed focus on resolving the backlog.
The acting U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction resigned unexpectedly Thursday afternoon, removing the White House's only real contender for the post and injecting new uncertainty into a troubled watchdog office.
Herb Richardson, who assumed his post in February, told National Journal in an interview that he will be leaving for a job in the private sector. Richardson had been in the job for just under six months and was undergoing a frustratingly long wait to see if the Obama administration would formally tab him for the post on a permanent basis. People familiar with the matter say that Richardson was the only candidate under serious White House consideration, which means the administration will now need to scramble to find his replacement.
Libya denies Gadhafi son killed
Libya’s rebel forces on Friday said an overnight NATO strike on an operations center in the western town of Zliten has killed Moammar Gadhafi’s son Khamis, and more than 30 other people.
Citing spies operating among Gadhafi’s ranks, Mohammed Zawawi, a spokesman for revolutionary militia groups, told AFP that Khamis was among the dead.
Rebels said their own operations room in eastern Libya had also intercepted radio chatter indicating Qaddafi’s son had been killed.
Reuters in Tripoli quotes a Libyan government spokesman as denying Khamis is dead, says reports are 'dirty trick'
Libya claims NATO killed civilians in Zlitan
From CNN's Ivan Watson
A grown man sobbed as friends led him out of the mosque. Mustafa Naji al-Mrabet's left hand and feet were bandaged, there were bloodstains on his robes, and the valve for an intravenous needle still stuck out of his arm. He was both a husband and a father, deep in mourning.
Nearby, his brother-in-law, 26-year-old Abubakr Ali cried like a child. Ali pulled back the blankets covering two small coffins. Inside lay the bloody bodies of his nephews, Mohamed and Motez al-Mrabet, ages 5 and 3. Their mother Ibtisam lay in a coffin beside them.
All three were killed early Thursday morning as they slept, neighbors and relatives said, when their house on the outskirts of this coastal city was hit by a NATO airstrike
Zlitan's leaders are apparently frightened that if the town is liberated, government artillery will be directed at them, and rebel leaders say a conventional attack on the city will cause civilian casualties. Misrata's leaders are now negotiating with Zlitan's elders, trying to encourage a change-of-mind. "It's not that much of a problem to capture Zlitan," said rebel fighter Mohammed Elfituri. "The problem is the families won't let us pass."
Tensions among Libyan rebel leadership
An influential group of lawyers and judges, the Coalition for the Revolution of the 17th of February, called for the resignations of several top officials, including the defense minister and a prominent judge. The group released a statement on Wednesday night calling for the resignations of the vice chairman of the rebel executive branch, Ali al-Essawi; the judge, Jumaah al-Jazwi al-Obeidy; and the defense minister, Jalal el-Digheily, and a deputy, Fawzi Bukatef, who also leads a coalition of armed rebel brigades separate from the army.
The group, which includes many people who helped start the Libyan uprising, said Mr. Essawi and Judge Obeidy should be investigated for their roles in ordering the arrest of the murdered general, Abdul Fattah Younes.
Stalemate in the Libyan mountains
The lonely ridge that tops the Nafusa Mountains has been used for centuries as a lookout point, a place where enemies are watched. Two thousand years ago, Berber men would sit in a stone lookout over the majestic brown plains, watching for strangers or enemies approaching their villages.
Today, their descendants use the same ridgeline to watch over their own enemies - the forces of Moammar Gadhafi entrenched in the dusty city of Tiji below.
Tarek Zambou was an intelligence officer in those forces, until the revolt began and he defected, returning home to the town of Kabaw, a few kilometers from where he now stands. He commands the area's Military Council.
Today he stands on the windswept point next to a solitary tank standing sentry and points to Taji, nine kilometers away but clearly visible across the flat desert plain.
"It is a very important place for us to take," he said. "And we will take it, no problem."
Minefields paralyze Libyan rebels
The front lines of Libya's grinding war weave through the western mountains and around Zlitan, the last city east of Tripoli still under the grip of strongman Moammar Gadhafi. In many places that Gadhafi's forces have fled, they've left behind deadly fields of mines - tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them, say the rebels. Not only do they pose a danger for civilians but they also have slowed the advance of the rebels in their march toward Tripoli.
New confrontation looms in Yemen
Armed Yemenis loyal to tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who heads a coalition backing anti-regime protests, were deployed in Sanaa on Friday as army troops bore down on their stronghold in the capital.
Armoured vehicles from the elite Republican Guard, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's son Ahmed, advanced overnight towards the northern Al-Hassaba neighborhood as tribesmen dug trenches in anticipation of renewed clashes, an AFP correspondent reported.
The troops blocked several roads and erected checkpoints, triggering a similar action by the tribesmen armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Tensions were high despite mediation attempts, the correspondent said, pointing out that loyal troops got very close to the tribe's stronghold and the First Armored Division, which has sided with anti-Saleh protesters.
Clinton appeals to Shabaab militants in Somalia
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday appealed to al-Shabaab militants in Somalia to give unfettered access to relief workers trying to aid thousands of people threatened by famine. Clinton said a high-level U.S. team will lead a fact-finding mission to neighboring Kenya to review relief efforts.
The United States lists al-Shabaab, which has ties to al-Qaeda, as a terrorist organization and has actively helped Somalia’s U.N.-supported transitional government try to resist a takeover by the Islamic militants.
But in an unusual direct appeal to al-Shabaab, Clinton urged the group to drop what she said was its deliberate effort to block food deliveries in south-central Somalia and in parts of the capital, Mogadishu, under its direct or indirect control.
al Qaeda in Sahara steps up PR
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a two-part video showing some its military operations in Algeria and Mali, including a raid in which AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud participated, and claiming a spiritual role in the Arab Spring. The production is titled, "Assault Them Through the Gate, for When You are In, Victory Will be Yours," and was presented as a "gift" for the holy month of Ramadan. It was posted on jihadist forums on August 3, 2011. Part One of the video is 59 minutes and 48 seconds long, and is divided into two sections; the first concerns the Arab Spring, and the second shows footage from the April 15, 2011, raid on barracks of the Algerian army in the Kabylie region of northern Algeria. AQIM had claimed responsibility for the raid, which they called the "Azazga Invasion," in a communiqué issued on April 20, and reported that 13 Algerian soldiers were killed.
Two hostages – one British national and one Italian national – kidnapped by suspected Al-Qaeda militants from the city of Birnin Kebbi in Nigeria on 12 May, appeared in an alleged Al-Qaeda video published online on 4 August. The two hostages, who were shown blindfolded and on their knees, both read statements demanding that their governments meet the demands of their captors. However, the report did not specify what the demands were. (Reuters)
US Defense Budget: Panetta draws the line
Vowing that he "came into this job to fight," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he intends to make sure "some common sense prevails" as Congress works to find more ways to reduce the national debt.
Panetta, just a little over one month on the job since replacing Robert Gates, held his first Pentagon news conference Thursday. The debt ceiling deal requires nearly $1 trillion in cuts right away. The Pentagon's share of that is about $400 billion according to a senior defense official.
An additional $500 billion in cuts that would come automatically if a Congressional committee fails to come up with a plan would be "completely unacceptable," he said. "If it happened - and God willing, that would not be the case - but if it did happen, it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board, defense cuts that I believe would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation. ...The American people expect that our military will provide for their security. Rather they expect that we will always protect our core national security interests while meeting reasonable savings targets."
The defense industry is gearing up to spare its big ticket Pentagon contracts from the budget ax. Lobbyists for the major defense contractors are working the phones, developing the ad campaigns, meeting with officials to try and make sure that Congressional negotiators won't cut their programs in the effort to slash the enormous federal deficit. See report from CNN's Barbara Starr Friday.
Defense cuts may impact Special Ops
Several of President Barack Obama’s handpicked crop of new top military officers have in recent weeks sought budget-cutting immunity for special operations forces and counterterrorism operations across the Middle East. But the budget deal Obama signed on Wednesday leaves most of the Special Operations Command budget exposed to the proposed cuts.
The bill is supposed to protect war funds contained in the special "overseas contingency operations" account, but only 34 percent of SOCOM funds requested for 2012 fall under that account.
Vice Adm. William McRaven, Joint Special Operations Commander and Obama’s choice as next SOCOM commander, told the Senate in June that any budget cuts "would severely impact my ability to meet the demand for [special operations forces] and significantly increase the risk to our nation’s security."
Army to shed thousands of civilian jobs
The U.S. Army, already looking to shrink its force by 27,000 soldiers, is now also trying to cut more than 8,000 civilian jobs.
The plans call for the civilian jobs to be eliminated between now and October 2012, according to an Army official and a memo obtained by CNN. The memo from Army Secretary John McHugh reads in part, "It is imperative that these reductions be accomplished as rapidly as possible, but no later than the end of FY 2012."
The cuts are part of the Army's plan to comply with the Secretary of Defense's instructions to return to fiscal year 2010 budget levels and keeping in line with the larger federal budget reduction efforts that predate the most recent national debt battle.
Missile defense program escapes cuts
Congress plans on increasing missile defense spending 1.2 per cent to $8.6 billion for fiscal year 2012. Bloomberg Government tallied the increase up along with 27 years worth of missile defense spending and found the price tag to be roughly $150 billion.
Smith and Ratnam point to an additional $1.16 billion needed for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program at Fort Greely, Alaksa as an example of such problems. The idea behind GMD is to knock out a ballistic missile headed to the U.S. using interceptor missiles. As Bloomberg notes, it has failed 7 out of 15 tests.
Hacker warns Pentagon to get with it
A hacker-turned-defense official, decrying the government's slowness to change, rolled out a new program on Thursday that would enable the Pentagon to more quickly fund hackers to tackle its tough cybersecurity challenges.
Peiter Zatko, a hacker known as Mudge who is now at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said he joined the Pentagon's research arm to try and build bridges between the government's cybersecurity needs and hackers working on innovative projects.
What he found instead was a lumbering bureaucracy on the government side that had the more nimble hacking community throwing up its arms in frustration as its members tried to navigate unfathomable bureaucratese on reams of forms, in a process that lasted months.
Cold War becomes Code War
Nations will launch online attacks and extremist groups will add cyber attacks to their tactics, according to Cofer Black, who spent 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming a private consultant.
"You had the Cold War, the global war on terrorism... now you have the Code War," Cofer said at a major Black Hat computer security gathering in Las Vegas.
"The natural thing will be for al-Qaeda to fall back to things that are small and agile," he continued. "They will enter the cyber world."
It will fall to computer security specialists such as the 8,500 Black Hat attendees to fortify defenses against such attacks and overcome the challenge of identifying culprits.
Figuring out who is behind cyber attacks is imperative as the United States and other countries weigh the option of real-world military retaliation for virtual incursions, according to Cofer.
How 9/11 might have been averted, maybe, conceivably....
In an article due to hit newsstands around the country Tuesday, Vanity Fair magazine reports that an intelligence operation that conceivably could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks ran into a major obstacle from the Clinton administration and was hampered by a lack of cooperation among the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI and the National Security Agency.
The plan, called Operation Foxden, was for an American telecommunications firm set up by an Afghan-American FBI source to win a contract from the ruling Taliban government and wire the nation, which was providing a safe haven for al Qaeda, for cell phones and Internet access. The network would have been linked to the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., which could have logged every call made by every subscriber, the number called and a recording of the call, the magazine's contributing editor David Rose reports.