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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In this file photo, a damaged bus is transported out of Burgas airport, Bulgaria, a day after a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers last year. (Impact Press Group/AP/File)

EU pressured to blacklist Hezbollah in wake of Bulgaria bus attack report

By Staff writer / 02.07.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

European Union leaders are under renewed pressure to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization after Bulgaria released a report implicating the Lebanese militant group in the July 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian town of Burgas.

But while the reclassification might seem likely after such an incident, some EU members remain reluctant to formalize the terrorist designation.

Blacklisting Hezbollah would pave the way to blocking cash flow to the militant organization from member states and freezing European assets linked to the group, according to The Wall Street Journal. The US and Israel, both of whom already classify the group as a terrorist organization, have been pushing the EU to take the step for years.

Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, denied responsibility and blamed the Bulgarian report on an Israeli campaign “to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

But the perception among some Israelis is that even this incident is unlikely to be enough to overcome EU resistance to blacklisting the group. In an analysis for The Jerusalem Post, diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon writes:

Logically one would think that catching an organization red-handed in carrying out a terrorist act on foreign soil leading to the murder of six people, five Israelis and a Bulgarian, would be enough to qualify that group as a terrorist entity.

But when it comes to Hezbollah, the EU has a logic all its own. An example of this came last month when the EU-observer, an online newspaper devoted to EU politics, reported that the union’s top counterterrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, said responsibility for that blast will not necessarily qualify Hezbollah for the terror blacklist.

“There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack,” he said in a comment that forces a double-take.

A number of factors explain European leaders' reticence to take that step, Mr. Keinon writes. France might lose its leverage inside Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the leading government player. Hezbollah might be forced to leave the government, which would destabilize ever-fragile Lebanon during a volatile time for the whole region. And it could raise the chances of retaliation on European nationals.

The EU has several options other than blacklisting Hezbollah, the Wall Street Journal notes.

"There are also actions that can be taken through various channels including, for example, through Europol, Eurojust, judicial action, political and diplomatic measures, and so on,” [said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton]. Europol is the EU's law enforcement agency, and Eurojust is its judicial cooperation unit.

The EU could push member states to deliver more information to Europol about Hezbollah or individuals linked it. Europol could also be asked to broaden its investigation of the people identified in the Burgas attack to see what links they have to other criminal activities, including drug trafficking, organized crime or arms smuggling, said a person familiar with discussions.

The UK and the Netherlands already consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, although the UK only blacklists the group’s military wing.

Thanassis Cambanis, a journalist who has written a book on Hezbollah, writes in The Atlantic that the Burgas bombing bolsters speculation that Hezbollah is less concerned about styling itself as something other than a terrorist group – a strategy that, until now, has helped it stay on the right side of the law with the EU.

Hezbollah has argued since the mid-1990s that it should be treated as a liberation movement, accorded the status of a quasi-state. It has claimed to behave within the norms of nations, concentrating after 1994 on military targets in its fight with Israel and making a plausible claim to proportionality vis-à-vis Israel's use of force against Lebanese civilians.

One benefit of this approach for Hezbollah has been Europe's refusal to list it as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah remains the dominant player in Lebanon's government and the single-most powerful political and militia organization in Lebanon. While American diplomats by law can't even talk to Hezbollah members, most Europeans have maintained relations.

… if Hezbollah is going rogue, or returning to its rogue roots of the 1980s, it will hurt the group over the long run, as it loses the access it has won in the Middle East and in Europe, and squanders what credibility it earned beyond its immediate following. Hezbollah will remain a quasi-state, but a rogue one.

The Wall Street Journal writes that the issue is unlikely to be addressed at a previously scheduled EU meeting tomorrow, but that it will "almost certainly" be on the agenda at a meeting later this month.

French armored vehicles are seen heading towards the Niger border before making a left turn north in Gao, northern Mali, Wednesday. France plans to withdraw its troops from Mali next month. (Jerome Delay/AP)

France: Mali withdrawal is in sight

By Staff writer / 02.06.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

France has indicated that the end of its military campaign to oust Islamic militants in Mali is in sight, and that it hopes to pull its troops next month. But despite French troops' success, it remains unclear what lies ahead for the West African nation, where a jihadist threat still lurks and a replacement peacekeeping force remains largely speculative.

In an interview published in Metro on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that France plans to withdraw its troops from Mali next month, reports Reuters.

"We will continue to act in the north where some terrorist havens remain," he told the newspaper. "I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should fall."

Should the French follow their schedule, it would mark a sweeping success in Mali. Not even four weeks into the operation, French troops, working in unison with Malian soldiers, have swept through northern Mali, driving Islamist forces out of long-occupied cities and towns.

According to Agence France-Presse, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday that "several hundred" Islamists have been killed during the campaign, mostly in French airstrikes and combat around Konna and Gao. Meanwhile, the French have only suffered a single fatality – a helicopter pilot killed at the start of operations – although at least 11 Malian soldiers have also been killed during the fighting. Bloomberg notes that so far, the operation has cost "several tens of millions of euros," according to Mr. Fabius.

Voice of America adds that Mr. Le Drian said on Wednesday that fighting continues between French and jihadist forces near Gao.

As the unscarred French consider their next step, analysts warn that Mali is still unsettled. The BBC's Hugh Schofield writes that the campaign so far "is a moment of satisfaction, but the French would be well advised not to let it go to their heads."

What follows may be more testing. Already it is clear there is what the defense minister calls "residual" resistance around towns like Gao. Then there is the task of clearing out the inaccessible Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where the toughest of the Islamists have taken refuge, probably with French hostages. And beyond that, questions are bound to be asked about the capacity of Malian and African troops to take over when the French leave.

The French want to start pulling out troops in March. But if the campaign morphs into a new kind of conflict, they may have to think again.

Nonetheless, a post-French plan for Mali does seem to be coalescing. French Development Minister Pascal Canfin told reporters yesterday that the US, France, and various West African players appear to support the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation to Mali "in the medium term," reports Reuters.

[West African bloc] ECOWAS president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said the grouping, and other African Union countries, want the UN to be involved in follow-up operations in Mali.

Delegates had discussed "eventually" converting the African mission into a UN force, "but with an appropriate mandate so it can act in an effective way to bring peace and security to that zone," he told a news conference.

Mr. Canfin added, however, that a previously agreed upon African Union force must deploy to Mali first – an effort that is underway, but progressing slowly.

North Korea's military guard post, right bottom, in North Korea's Kaepoong is viewed from the unification observation post near the border village of Panmunjom that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Could North Korea be planning multiple nuclear tests? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.05.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

South Korea’s outgoing leader said today that it was worried North Korea could detonate not one, but multiple, nuclear devices when it moves forward with its most recent threat to carry out a “higher level” nuclear test.

"North Korea is likely to carry out multiple nuclear tests at two places or more simultaneously" to maximize scientific gains from the event, said South Korea’s outgoing President Lee Myung-bak in an interview with the Choson Ilbo newspaper today, according to Agence France-Presse.

The United Nations Security Council voted last month to enact further sanctions against North Korea as a result of its December 2012 rocket launch, which went against UN agreements. The secretive nation, led by Kim Jong-un, responded to the new sanctions angrily, saying future tests would be “targeted at the United States,” and vowing to expand its nuclear program “both quantitatively and qualitatively.”

North Korea successfully tested two nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. If carried out, this would be its third test.

The South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press that "We assess that North Korea has almost finished preparations for conducting a nuclear test anytime and all that's left is North Korea making a political decision" to do so. Analysts told the BBC that satellite imagery shows a tunnel to an apparent mountainside lab may be in the process of being sealed, a vital step before a test can be carried out.

Though some, including Mr. Lee, believe North Korea’s reference to a “high-level nuclear test” is an indication the country could be planning more than one nuclear blast, others believe “high-level” may refer to the use of highly enriched uranium for the first time. North Korea’s past nuclear tests used plutonium.

The New York Times notes that the question of uranium vs. plutonium is an important one, but it is not an easy differentiation to make from a distance. The use of highly enriched uranium:

...would indicate that North Korea might be well on its way to substantially expanding its nuclear arsenal through uranium enrichment, a harder-to-detect means of making bomb fuel. That would also make the North’s nuclear program more menacing, its regime likely more recalcitrant and its neighbors more agitated, as seen in Seoul’s recent decision to extend the range of its missiles.

It is not easy to tell what type of material a detonated device was made from, reports the Times. There is a window of about 10 to 20 hours to “detect and analyze the different types of xenon gases produced in an atomic explosion” in order to discern whether it was a plutonium or atomic bomb.

Still, other North Korea observers say the importance of this potential test is that it could be a step along the path toward miniaturization of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Siegfried S. Hecker writes in Foreign Policy, “Without additional nuclear tests, North Korea is greatly limited in its ability to miniaturize a nuclear device to fit on one of its missiles.”

The 2006 and 2009 tests demonstrated that North Korea can build a nuclear device, but that its nuclear arsenal is likely limited to bulky devices that would need to be delivered by plane, boat, or van, thereby greatly limiting their deterrent value. To make its nuclear arsenal more menacing and provide the deterrent power Pyongyang's vitriolic pronouncements are aimed to achieve, North Korea must demonstrate that it can deliver the weapons on missiles at a distance.

Mr. Lee told the Choson Ilbo newspaper that it would be "difficult to persuade the North regime to give up the nuclear path." However, many in the international community point to further sanctions as the best course of action.

In an opinion for CNN, George Lopez, a former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), says one of the best remaining options in stalling North Korea’s nuclear progress is to have a “product-focused sanctions approach,” where the Security Council would deny North Korea the materials it needs to continue developing nuclear weapons.

Precise lists of dozens of the materials used in centrifuge operation that should be sanctioned are already recorded for the Council in the reports of their Panel of Experts for the DPRK. Lists of related materials have also been developed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. To date the permanent five have sanctioned only a very few of the materials on either list. The Council also needs member states to strengthen export, customs and financial controls on dual-use items that are "below grade" of those newly sanctioned items. This will stifle the North's ability to upgrade or jerry-rig these hitherto unsanctioned items as a way of maintaining their program.

Also critical to the success of this choking of supplies would be stricter controls of the illicit financing that supports such trade. Putting strong enforcement behind the 2087 resolution's concern about DPRK cash flows, especially through its embassies, is also in order.

Another, somewhat unprecedented, sanctions option would be a Council-issued travel ban on North Korea placed on all scientists, engineers and others with specialized expertise in centrifuge technologies and uranium enrichment.

Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor who recently led a delegation to North Korea, and Mickey Bergman, senior adviser to the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, write in an opinion for the Washington Post that more than just sanctions are needed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

[I]t is important to recognize on our end that the lack of direct dialogue is not helping us achieve our goals. Dialogue is not an endorsement or legitimization of your counterpart’s positions. Rather, it is an exchange of arguments and ideas that help both sides better understand the other and identify opportunities. The United States takes issue with the conduct of the North Korean regime with regards to its nuclear program, proliferation and its violations of human rights. The diplomatic toolbox is robust and diverse. While sanctions are merited and are a legitimate tool, so is dialogue. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In the meantime, North Korea's state-run media distributor, Uriminzokkiri, released a short film on Saturday showing a dream sequence with a rocket launched into orbit and "an apparent missile attack" on New York, according to Fox News.  All of this was set to the 1980s hit song, "We Are the World."
 
Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton called the video "disturbing," however Bruce Klinger from the Heritage Foundation told Fox the "strange" and "amateurish" video was not a direct warning of an attack on the US.
 
“It’s very consistent with decades of North Korean propaganda,” he said. “Things will not change under Kim Jong Un."

In this file photograph, an Israeli F-16 jet fighter flies near the city of Ashdod, Israel. (Ariel Schalit/AP/File)

Israel implies it was behind last week's airstrike in Syria, but little else is clear

By Staff writer / 02.04.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

New comments have shed further light on last week's alleged Israeli airstrike into Syria, including ones in which Israel's defense minister effectively confirmed that his country was behind the attack.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, appearing at a security conference in Munich on Sunday, all but stated explicitly that Israel was behind last week's airstrike, reports the Associated Press. Although Jerusalem has officially remained silent on the topic, Mr. Barak referred to the attack as "proof when we say something, we mean it."

"I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago," Barak said. "I keep telling frankly that we said – and that's proof when we said something we mean it – we say that we don't think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon."

Just what the airstrike targeted remains unconfirmed, though more details emerged over the weekend. Initially, multiple sources said the target was a convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft weaponry to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of Syria's Assad regime and Iran.

Syria, however, has claimed that the target was a military research facility on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian state television added support to that claim by broadcasting footage over the weekend of the site, "showing extensive damage to buildings and several heavy military vehicles which appeared capable of carrying missiles," reports Reuters.

At least one vehicle, with light desert khaki markings, was equipped with what looked like a satellite dish.

Several burnt out cars and lorries – including one with a large hole smashed through the roof of the driver's cabin - could also be seen in the footage, as well as the badly damaged interior of an office.

Making his first public response to the airstrike, President Bashar al-Assad said that Israel was trying to destabilize Syria, but that Damascus was able to confront the "current threats ... and aggression" against it.

The Washington Post reports that according to two unnamed US officials, the convoy and the military research center were the same target. They suggested that the damage suffered to the complex was the result of secondary damage from the destruction of the arms carried in the convoy, which one of the officials described as "a shipment of weapons ... potentially headed to the wrong kinds of people."  The Post noted that the Syrian video of the center showed no craters that would typically indicate a direct bomb strike.

The New York Times also quotes an unnamed senior US official, who says that the Israelis "clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks." The official says that "the Israelis had [used] a small strike package" of munitions, so the attack could only have been focused on either the convoy or the center. Attacking both "would risk doing just a little damage to either."

But The Times also suggests there is reason to doubt the convoy narrative, in part because the weapons allegedly being shipped to Hezbollah, a collection of SA-17 missiles and launchers, would stand out in ways that would reflect poorly on Syria and its allies. The Times cites Ruslan R. Aliyev, an analyst with the Moscow-based defense research group Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technologies, as saying SA-17s are too sophisticated for Hezbollah to use, and would be easily detected.

Further, he says, the Assad government's relations with Russia, one of its few international backers and supplier of its weapons, would be seriously strained were Russian-made arms to end up in Lebanon - which Assad had promised they would not.

Another of the Assad regime's key allies, Iran, attempted on Monday to use the airstrike to spur regional antagonism towards Israel.  During a visit to Damascus, Iranian security chief Saeed Jalili told reporters that "Just like it regretted all its wars... the Zionist entity will regret its aggression against Syria," reports Agence France-Presse.

"The Syrian people and government are serious about this, and the Muslim world supports Syria," Jalili said.

"Syria is at the forefront of the Muslim world's confrontation with the Zionist entity," he added, in reference to Israel.

A damaged military vehicle that belonged to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen in a damaged neighborhood in Homs late last month. (Yazan Homsy/REUTERS)

Syria's regime and rebels each try to use Israeli airstrike to their advantage

By Staff writer / 02.01.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Although all signs point to Israel as responsible for an attack two days ago on Syrian territory, the political fallout seems to be concentrated in Syria, where both the Assad regime and the opposition are trying to work the incident to their respective advantages.

The beleaguered regime is using the attack, which Israel has refused to acknowledge, to cast the opposition as allied with “the Zionist enemy” and appeal to Syrians about the need for unity in the face of hostility. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is painting the lack of retaliation for the attack as evidence that the government and Army have been greatly weakened by the uprising.

On Wednesday, Israeli jets reportedly struck a convoy allegedly carrying advanced anti-aircraft weapons to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has been steadily building up its arsenal in preparation for a possible future conflict with Israel. While Hezbollah threatened retaliation, however, it may be reluctant to engage in a conflict with Israel when Syria, a key backer of the militant group, is torn by civil war, The Christian Science Monitor reports. 

Both Israel and the Syrian opposition have denied any Israeli role in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but the Syrian government “called the raid evidence of Israeli complicity,” and said that Israel was only able to make a foray into Syrian airspace because the opposition had attacked “air defense and radar installations,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

Hezbollah said that it hoped the airstrike would prompt the Syrian opposition "to rethink their position and adopt political dialogue as the sole basis for a solution to stem Syrian blood,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Daily Star, in Lebanon, reports that Hezbollah said the attack revealed Israel’s “motives toward [unrest] in Syria over the past two years and the criminal thinking aimed at destroying Syria and its army and eliminating its pivotal resistance and rejectionist role to pave the way for unfolding the chapters of a major conspiracy against [Syria] and against our Arab and Muslim peoples.”

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, have been highlighting the disparity between the regime’s rhetoric-only response to the Israeli attack and its no-holds-barred crackdown on the uprising.

"It's a disgrace when Israeli war planes attack Syria and your jets have no other job but to attack bakeries, mosques, universities and civilians," Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the Western-backed Syrian opposition umbrella group known as the National Coalition, wrote yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Amos Harel, a military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, writes that Syria’s acknowledgement of the attack “surprised” Israeli officials since their own silence gave Syria cover to pretend it didn’t happen.

Even more surprising than the announcement itself, an exceptional step compared to the previous Syrian policy concerning Israel, were the details. The wording of the Syrian announcement along with the geographic location pointed to a site well-known to Western intelligence organizations: One of Syria's centers for the manufacture of nonconventional weapons.

Damascus released information that it generally prefers to keep secret. Moreover, as opposed to previous attacks ascribed to Israel and which both sides kept quiet about, this time it seems the Assad regime was willing to publicly expose the damage to its national honor.

Why did the Syrians choose to abandon the chance to deny that Israel allowed them? This time it seems they want to exploit the attack for their own purposes. The announcement yesterday said the bombing was proof that Israel is behind the opposition groups fighting the government.

This, of course, is a big lie, but in Assad's condition he needs all the diplomatic ammunition he can get.

Reuters writes that Israel’s silence on the attack is in keeping with the way it has handled similar incidents in the past. The silence not only helps keep spies and strategy under wraps, but allows “foes to save face and thus reduce the risk of reprisal and escalation.”

Avoiding any behavior that could be seen as bragging also lessens the need for statements of condemnation from countries Israel often cooperates with, such as Jordan, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, in an editorial headlined “A bounty of empty threats,” the Daily Star writes that a Syrian response is unlikely, in keeping with Syria’s habit of launching only verbal attacks in response to Israeli aggression. Iran is the party to watch, it argues. 

Earlier this week, Iran said it considered any attack on Syria as tantamount to an attack on the Islamic Republic. The world will now have to wait to see if Iranian officials have decided to take a page from the book of their Syrian counterparts, namely the issuing of empty threats.

For decades, Damascus has based the legitimacy of the Baath regime on terms such as “resistance” to Israeli aggression. However, the historical record shows that Syria has preferred to avoid responding to these attacks, such as a 2007 strike on a purported nuclear facility in the Syrian desert, or the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh the following year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi address the media after talks in Berlin January 30, 2013. Merkel urged Egypt's Islamist president on Wednesday to open a dialogue with all political forces in the crisis-ridden Arab country after a week of violence that has killed more than 50 people. (Tobias Schwarz/REUTERS)

German visit offers Egypt's Morsi no relief from mounting pressures (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.31.13

On a visit to Germany cut short by turmoil at home, Mohamed Morsi saw no respite from the economic and political pressures facing his government, as the German chancellor pushed for the Egyptian president to engage with the opposition and declined to offer relief from Egyptian debts.

During a joint press conference with Mr. Morsi, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized that she saw open discussion with the opposition as key to Egypt's democracy and political stability, reports Middle East Online. "From my side I made it clear that there are different things that are very important for us," she said. "One is that dialogue with all political forces in Egypt is always available."

"That the different political forces can make a contribution, that human rights in Egypt are observed and that of course also religious freedom can be experienced," Mrs. Merkel added.

And while Western calls for greater political cooperation in Egypt are not new, Germany wields a particularly potent club against Egypt, reports Der Spiegel: some €240 million ($324 million) in Egyptian debt owed to Berlin. Germany had earlier hinted that it might consider forgiving some of Egypt's loans, but Morsi came away from his visit empty-handed.

"What matters now is that the work that needs be done, gets done," [Merkel] said. Against the backdrop of turmoil in Egypt, the chancellor told Morsi that sturdy economic development contributed to political stability. Of course, the reverse can also be true.

The Wall Street Journal notes that boosting Egypt's economic ties with Germany had been a key focus of Morsi's visit. He had been accompanied by numerous Egyptian business leaders in hopes of bolstering bilateral trade, which accounted for roughly €4.1 billion ($5.5 billion) in 2012, according to the German economic ministry. The Journal also notes that, aside from being one of Egypt's biggest European trading partners, Germany also has critical clout within the EU that could help Egypt win further financial assistance to save its ailing economy.

Der Spiegel notes that just prior to Morsi's visit to Berlin, Germany issued a new travel warning against its citizens visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – costly advice for Egypt and Morsi, as more than a million Germans annually fueled Egypt's tourism-based economy before the revolution. "Today, officials in Cairo are happy to attract half as many," writes Der Spiegel. An attack in 1997 outside the Egyptian Museum killed 10 tourists, nine of whom were German.

Deutsche Welle adds that Morsi also faced "awkward" questions about a recently uncovered video that showed Morsi making anti-Semitic comments, calling Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs." Morsi claimed that his comments had been taken out of context, and were directed at Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Even as Morsi met with Merkel in Germany, pressure mounted at home to broaden the dialogue between rival political factions in order to ease the ongoing unrest racking Egypt. Agence France-Presse reports that one of Egypt's leading clerics, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, led talks between representatives of key groups, including Saad al-Katatni, the head of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, and influential liberal opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Mussa. Members of smaller Islamist parties, Christian organizations, and revolutionary groups also attended.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Salafi al-Nour Party, a hardline Islamist organization, joined the opposition National Salvation Front's call for a national unity government and a revision of the Constitution.

After meeting with leaders from the Front, al-Nour chief Younis Makhyoun said, "We are considered Islamists, and we are from the Islamic current but when we work for the sake of national reconciliation, we have to be neutral ... Egypt for all Egyptians."

Egypt must not be ruled "by a single faction... but there must be a real partnership in decision-making and administration," he told reporters.

Egypt's Salafis have generally been supportive of Morsi's Islamic government and critical of the NSF and other liberal and secular members of the opposition, making their apparent split with the government particularly damaging to the Muslim Brotherhood's political control. The AP notes that the move may be intended to boost the al-Nour party's position in upcoming parliamentary elections by distancing it from the increasingly unpopular government.

A Malian soldier displays ammunition seized from Islamists rebels after their departure, in Timbuktu, Tuesday. French troops have taken control of the airport in the northern Malian town of Kidal, the last rebel stronghold in the north, the French army and a local official told Reuters on Wednesday. (Francois Rihouay/Reuters)

France rolls north in Mali, but daunting second phase looms (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.30.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Only 24 hours after securing the city of Timbuktu, French troops have taken control of the airport in one of the last major northern cities in Mali today, part of their northern sweep to clear the country of Islamist militants.

This could “mark the end of the first phase of the French military intervention,” reports the BBC, though “the difficult task of chasing the fighters down across the vast desert” still remains.

French troops arrived last night on four planes, and were not met by force or resistance in Kidal, the capital of a desert region with the same name, reports the Associated Press. The airport has been secured, but it is unclear whether or not the city itself has been overtaken. A French general based in Paris noted that the operation in Kidal was “ongoing.”

According to the Financial Times, The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a secular group that aims to liberate northern Mali for the ethnic Tuareg, claims it entered the city on Monday and that Islamist militants had already fled.

The MNLA, which has been fighting for Taureg independence from Mali for more than 50 years, says that it is willing to work with the French to track down and eradicate terrorism in the country, however it refuses the return of the Malian army to Kidal, reports the BBC.

“You are talking about two different armies. We have direct contact with the French and we have asked them for a co-ordinated approach against the terrorists. But the Malian army has nothing to do in Kidal,” Mossa Ag Attaher, a spokesman for the MNLA told the Financial Times.

Mr. Attaher noted that fighters have defected from a Tuareg-led Islamist group Ansar Dine to the MNLA since France first stepped into Mali at the behest of its president earlier this month. The blurring of lines between these groups and the persistence of the MNLA’s grievances is but one of the complications faced in Mali after the initial success of French and accompanying Malian troops overtaking some of its major northern cities including Gao and Timbuktu. The FT reports:

The re-emergence of the MNLA underscores the complexity of the conflict France has waded into. The French risk alienating their allies in the Malian government if they leave Kidal in separatist hands. But longer-term stability hinges on a negotiated solution with Tuareg rebels, experts say.

As talk of France’s success spreads – including French President Françoise Hollande’s mention that France “is winning in Mali" – and it becomes more evident that the French hope to transition out of Mali, handing off control to Malian and African forces, some warn there are important past lessons to heed. The Los Angeles Times reports “lessons learned in the Western intervention in Libya less than two years ago caution against a premature retreat by the French and their arm's-length U.S. and European allies...”

While the United Nations has endorsed the plans to deploy 3,300 troops from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, those fighters lack training and familiarity with the challenging desert conditions that the veteran militants of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb navigate with confidence.

As the former colonial power in Mali and much of North Africa, France runs the risk of stirring resentment if it stays too long or appears to be reasserting its authority in the region. On the other hand, the experts say, Paris and its allies shouldn’t leave the newly liberated towns vulnerable to recurring waves of invasion and takeover by militants who are only scattered, not defeated.

An opinion in Al Jazeera notes another challenge facing Mali: Islamist militants in Mali have “already switched from occupation to insurgency mode. Holding cities is no longer part of their strategy,” writes Andy Morgan, an author of Tuareg history and former manager of Tuareg music groups.

What's certain is the Malian army is entirely incapable of pursuing the fight against a protracted Islamist guerrilla insurgency in the north on their own, or indeed, with the help of ECOWAS forces. So unless France fancies the prospect of leaving its soldiers, tanks and MIGs up in Northern Mali for years to come - a most unappealing prospect no doubt - they'll need to build coalitions with other local anti-Islamist groups who have at least some chance of ridding northern Mali of Islamist violence. Who could those groups be? The MNLA? The MIA? The Tchadian army? Algeria? … From France and Mali's point of the view, the list of candidates is unappetising to say the least.

Whatever the scenario, the Rubik's cube like complexity of Mali's problems, especially in the north, presents one of the greatest conflict resolution challenges in recent African history. Success relies on solving a short list of problems, each of which look like a challenge fit for gods rather than mere mortals.

But many locals whose cities were liberated over the weekend and this week may be more concerned with their immediate security, and feelings of reprisal are starting to bubble in some areas, reports The New York Times.

“The city is free, but I think the areas close by are still dangerous,” said Mahamane Touré, a Gao resident reached by telephone from Bamako, the capital. “These guys are out there,” Mr. Touré said, referring to Islamist militants that controlled his city for months.

Mr. Touré, who spent the evening watching soccer on television and listening to music with friends, said that although everyone was enjoying the new freedoms, the legacy of Islamist occupation was evident in the hardship of everyday life.

“The price of gasoline is almost double, and the price of food is very high,” Mr. Touré said. “There are still things in the market, but no one has any money and there is no aid.”

Reporters and photographers in Timbuktu, the storied desert oasis farther north that the French-Malian forces secured on Monday, saw looters pillaging shops and other businesses, with some saying the merchants were mainly Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who had supported the Islamist radicals who summarily executed, stoned and mutilated people they suspected of being nonbelievers during their 10-month occupation.

Alex Crawford, a television correspondent for Britain’s Sky News, said, “This is months and months of frustration and repression finally erupting.”

A French soldier guards the Timbuktu airport, in northern Mali on Monday. Yesterday, close to 1,000 French and 200 Malian troops overtook the airport in Timbuktu, prior to entering the ancient city. (Arnaud Roine; EMA-ECPAD/AP)

Mali: French bring the troops, world now bringing the funds (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.29.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Pledges of international aid and military support are flooding into Mali just 2-1/2 weeks after France launched a military offensive in the West African country. And though spirits are high after French forces reportedly took the cities of Gao and Timbuktu in recent days, many warn fully stamping out Islamist rebels in Mali’s north and neighboring countries could take years.

Yesterday, close to 1,000 French and 200 Malian troops overtook the airport in Timbuktu, prior to entering the ancient city. Residents told the BBC that the Islamists departed days earlier, after bombs were dropped on their bases there.

“There were no shots fired, no blood spilt. Not even passive resistance with traps," a colonel heading the French helicopter operations in Timbuktu said of overtaking the city.

During the weekend troops also secured the city of Gao. Both Timbuktu and Gao are important “strategically and symbolically” since they have been under the Islamist rebel control since last April.

But according to The Christian Science Monitor’s correspondent in Mali, the relative ease with which troops have been able to reclaim cities and towns from the Islamists doesn’t necessarily mean their work is near completion.

So far, their enemies have put up little resistance. French troops have rolled unopposed into many towns and villages in recent days. But more complex work lies ahead. Militants may re-emerge as a guerrilla force, while Mali’s government and its partners have the daunting task of restoring order and public services after months of turmoil.

… Electricity is down, economic life has withered, and state facilities have been trashed. Yesterday morning, French troops rolled into the town of Niafounké, north of Léré. They found its lakeside fishing port converted to a military barracks covered with jihadi graffiti, and now deserted.

“Every place they occupied, the Islamists turned it directly to their own uses,” says Youssef Maiga, a builder who turned out with hundreds of locals to cheer the French arrival. As French soldiers accompanying journalists mixed with the crowds, Mr. Maiga approached a lieutenant.

“Will more of you come? We have nothing here,” Maiga said.

“We’re not going to leave you,” the lieutenant replied.

When or how France will leave Mali may be an increasingly salient challenge for the former colonial power, whose intervention, at the behest of Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré, came months before a Western-backed, West African-led plan was set to go into effect.

France has pledged to stay in Mali until it is stabilized, but with unknown numbers of Islamists still in the country that end goal is fuzzy. On Monday, French President Francois Hollande said at a news conference: “We are winning in Mali,” reports CNN.

The international community, meanwhile, has stepped up in recent days to make sure Mali defeats the Islamist rebels there, who have limited the rights and activities of locals since last year.

The African Union agreed yesterday to contribute $50 million to the mission in Mali. According to the BBC, “in a list of donations carried on the AU’s Twitter” feed today, Japan pledged $120 million; Germany $20 million; India and China $1 million each; and the US $96 million.

And the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which initially pledged 3,300 troops in Mali, expects to see that number to rise. “Up until now, a dozen African nations have offered to contribute to this force, bringing its total to 5,000 or 6,000,” reports the South African government news agency.

France currently has close to 3,000 troops in Mali, and an estimated 8,000 African troops are expected to eventually take over, reports the BBC.

In an effort to enable Malians to maintain control over their territory once international powers step back, officials said today that European Union countries are meeting in Brussels to discuss contributing more troops, reports the Associated Press. The mission could include deploying 500 people, half of whom would be working as military trainers, by April 1.

The United States, for its part, has said it will not deploy combat troops to Mali. However, during the weekend the US agreed to provide support for in-flight refueling to French troops there, reports Bloomberg News. In a sign of increased US involvement in the region, the US and Niger signed a pact that will allow US military personnel to be stationed in the country, which sits just east of Mali. Bloomberg reports the plan has been in the works for more than a year, and could possibly include the stationing of US drones in Niger. 

According to the AP the US has already been providing help in the region:

The U.S. has been providing military transport to help move French troops and equipment. The U.S. flew one refueling mission on Sunday, delivering 33,000 pounds of fuel, the U.S. Africa Command said.

The U.S. is also assisting six African countries: Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo with "non-lethal equipment" and training, as well as transport to move troops to Mali, [Don Yamamoto US principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs] said.

Yesterday in Timbuktu, crowds came out to cheer on the French and Malian forces that liberated their home. Flags from both countries were flying, and people were dancing and celebrating, according to a second Monitor report.

“Under the Islamists, you could never see this – people listening to music together in the open air,” says Cissé Al Mansour, a cook in Timbuktu.

The United Nations reports that more than 11,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting in Mali, and an estimated 23,000 have been displaced since the crisis started, according to Bloomberg.

Smoke rises after Egyptian protesters clash with police, unseen, in Port Said, Egypt, on Sunday. (AP)

Egypt opposition cool to Morsi's offer of talks amid state of emergency (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.28.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Egypt's opposition leaders will meet later today to consider President Mohamed Morsi's offer of emergency talks to determine a response to ongoing unrest, but their initial response has been cool at best.

Individual leaders have warned that unless the government addresses more fundamental problems that leave Egypt ripe for upheaval, talks will be "a waste of time."

President Morsi declared a state of emergency yesterday in the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya, and Suez after a weekend of violence and protests that left scores dead. The rioting began two days earlier in response to a court sentencing 21 people to death for their involvement in a soccer riot in February. Mr. Morsi called for a meeting with opposition leaders to discuss how to resolve the crisis.

But while the capital sentences may have been the trigger for the riots, opposition leaders blame the president's policies for the underlying unrest, and said that a meeting that does not also address Morsi's role in fomenting instability would be pointless, reports Reuters.

"Unless the president takes responsibility for the bloody events and pledges to form a government of national salvation and a balanced committee to amend the constitution, any dialogue will be a waste of time," Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent politician who founded the Constitution Party, wrote on Twitter

Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist politician and presidential candidate who is another leading member of the [National Salvation Front opposition coalition], said he would not attend Monday's meeting "unless the bloodshed stops and the people's demands are met."

Ahmed Said of the liberal Free Egyptians Party said Morsi's tone on Sunday night was more threatening than conciliatory. "Egypt is in danger and completely split," he told Reuters.

The Monitor's Kristen Chick reported yesterday that many analysts agree with the opposition's sentiment that the current upheaval – both the soccer conviction protests and ongoing anti-Morsi protests which increased in intensity on Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the 2011 uprising – "is a symptom of an unresolved political crisis and the decreasing legitimacy of state institutions."

“I think it's indicative of the way in which the authority and legitimacy of the state have receded, and is reflective of a very deep-seated political crisis," says Michael Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation who is currently in Cairo. "It's going to be very difficult to reestablish that authority because they are acting unilaterally. And the tools that they are employing to try to reestablish authority are the tools of repression that have and continue to generate a destabilizing effect in the form of protests and mass mobilization," he says of Morsi's government.

A constitution drafting process that marginalized the opposition, and bringing the document to a vote despite their protests, “served to institutionalize the political crisis,” he says. “And I think we're seeing some of the fruits of that. It's been coupled with frustration that he has not been able to deliver tangible reforms or improvements in people's lives.”

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool noted in a broadcast that the protests are also a byproduct of the success of the demonstrations against Mubarak: "People saw two years ago that taking to the streets is something that works. Even though of course two years ago over 800 people died, people saw that it produced results."

"Since then, that sort of replaced normal politics," he said. "People take to the streets, we've seen over the last couple of days, in opposition to what they feel the president is doing, or even when it comes to a judgment they didn't like in the courts – in the case of Port Said, where today we saw over 600 people injured, because they didn't like the judgment 21 death sentences handed down to people from Port Said who were involved in a football riot. So, that is a huge thing for [Morsi] to tackle, and that in itself is a huge problem for Egypt going forward."

And in an editorial today titled "Morsi plays Mubarak," Lebanon's Daily Star argues that demonstrators are not the only ones repeating history.  The Egyptian government's decision to instate curfews and a state of emergency were "as if Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood team around him could find nothing better to do than take a page from the Syrian playbook on how to deal with mass anger: Shoot first, and ask questions, maybe, later."

Instead of learning from the mistakes that have been committed in other countries in the region, the Egyptian authorities relied on the same old methods, such as demonizing the opposition as outlaws, terrorists or remnants of the old regime.

The outbreak of violence in Suez and Port Said was preceded by demonstrations in Cairo on the second anniversary of the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. But the Brotherhood is reminding everyone of the bad old days, when it opts to use repression and crackdowns to deal with public grievances. It’s no surprise that some people chanted, “Mursi equals Mubarak.”

US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies speaks to the media in Beijing, January 25. The US envoy for the North Korean nuclear dispute said on Friday that North Korea's rhetoric was deeply troubling and counterproductive, after Pyongyang threatened to attack South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened UN Sanctions. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

After threatening the US, North Korea turns its ire on South Korea

By Staff writer / 01.25.13

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

North Korea today issued yet another verbal volley in response to the United Nations’ condemnation of the launching of a satellite late last year, this time directing its threats at South Korea.

Pyongyang’s sharp words have exasperated the international community – even China, its most critical ally, which voiced its frustration in an editorial today after backing punitive UN measures against the North earlier this week. 

Pyongyang warned Seoul that if it signed on to the series of fresh international sanctions against the North, it would retaliate. 

"Sanctions mean a war and a declaration of war against us,” the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said today, according to Reuters. "If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the UN 'sanctions,' the DPRK will take strong physical counter-measures against it.”

Earlier this week, the UN Security Council members unanimously condemned Pyongyang’s rocket launch in December and expanded current sanctions. The US followed up with sanctions of its own yesterday, prompting North Korea to threaten additional rocket launches and nuclear tests against the US, its “sworn enemy.” 

Whether there is any substance to these threats is unclear. As The Wall Street Journal notes, “North Korea often threatens the South with attack without following through with action.”  

But South Korean defense ministry officials said this week that they believe the North could follow through with its threat to detonate a nuclear explosive at any time, and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that even if there are no signs that a test is forthcoming, "They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that make it very difficult to determine whether or not they are doing it,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier writes that US officials seem torn over how seriously to take the North’s threats. Mr. Panetta said earlier this month, referring to a North Korean satellite launch in December, that “North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile, for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.” His predecessor, Secretary Robert Gates, warned the North could reach the US with a missile by 2015 or 2016.

But, Mr. Grier also writes, “North Korean officials have long talked with bellicosity unmatched in geostrategic circles.”

Some say that when it comes to their nuclear missile programs, this chest thumping is largely a bluff – pro wrestling drama translated for an international stage.

Their past missile tests have been maximized to give the appearance of performance, and they have never exploded an actual nuclear warhead design, according to RAND analyst Markus Schiller.

Thus concerns about their missile tests are overblown, wrote Mr. Schiller in a lengthy 2012 report on North Korea’s missile programs. 

“Every launch further depletes the limited North Korean arsenals, and North Korea gains no real experience from these events. Since the purpose of the launches seems to be political, the United States and other nations should downplay or even ignore them,” he writes. 

China, Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner and most critical ally, has appointed itself the unofficial mediator between the North and the international community. In an editorial, the Global Times asserts that China cannot take sides, nor will it  “stay aloof” from the dispute between the North and South and its international backers.  

But in the editorial, Beijing voiced exasperation with Pyongyang’s recalcitrance and provocative actions.

It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China's efforts. It criticized China without explicitly naming it in its statement yesterday: "Those big countries, which are obliged to take the lead in building a fair world order, are abandoning without hesitation even elementary principles, under the influence of the US' arbitrary and high-handed practices, and failing to come to their senses."

China's role and position are clear when discussing North Korea issue in the UN Security Council. If North Korea engages in further nuclear tests, China will not hesitate to reduce its assistance to North Korea. If the US, Japan and South Korea promote extreme UN sanctions on North Korea, China will resolutely stop them and force them to amend these draft resolutions.

Just let North Korea be "angry." We can't sit by and do nothing just because we are worried it might impact the Sino-North Korean relationship. Just let the US, Japan and South Korea grumble about China. We have no obligation to soothe their feelings.

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