News & Current Affairs

September 12, 2008

No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus

No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus

The outgoing commander of US troops in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said that he will never declare victory there.

In a BBC interview, Gen Petraeus said that recent security gains were “not irreversible” and that the US still faced a “long struggle”.

When asked if US troops could withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year, he said that would be “doable”.

In his next job leading the US Central Command, Gen Petraeus will also oversee operations in Afghanistan.

This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade… it’s not war with a simple slogan
Gen David Petraeus

He said “the trends in Afghanistan have not gone in the right direction… and that has to be addressed”.

Afghanistan remained a “hugely important endeavor”, he said.

Earlier this week, President George W Bush announced a cut of 8,000 US troops in Iraq by February – with some 4,500 being sent to Afghanistan.

‘Hard but hopeful’

Gen Petraeus took up his role in Iraq in February 2007, as President Bush announced his “surge” plan.

He has overseen its implementation, including the deployment of nearly 30,000 additional troops to trouble spots in Iraq.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Gen Petraeus said that when he took charge in Iraq “the violence was horrific and the fabric of society was being torn apart”.

A handing over ceremony by US troops to the Iraqi military at a base in Baghdad (09/09/08)

Gen Petraeus said the Iraqis were standing up as US forces stood down

Leaving his post, he said there were “many storm clouds on the horizon which could develop into real problems”.Overall he summed up the situation as “still hard but hopeful”, saying that progress in Iraq was “a bit more durable” but that the situation there remained fragile.

He said he did not know that he would ever use the word “victory”: “This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade… it’s not war with a simple slogan.”

He said al-Qaeda’s efforts to portray its jihad in Iraq as going well were “disingenuous”. It was, in fact “going poorly”, he said.

Of his strategy of establishing joint security stations in key locations, Gen Petraeus said that “you can’t secure the people if you don’t live with them”.

He said it was now fair to say that the Iraqis were standing up as US forces stood down. The confidence and capability of Iraqi forces had increased substantially, he said.

Gen Petraeus did not confirm reports in the media that the US was preparing to withdraw all troops from Baghdad by next summer, but he did say that consideration was being given to removing US forces from a number of cities, including the capital.

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September 8, 2008

Three guilty of bomb conspiracy

Three guilty of bomb conspiracy

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar were found guilty

Three men have been found guilty of a massive terrorist conspiracy to murder involving home-made bombs.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain’s convictions follow a huge terrorism inquiry, which led to sweeping airport restrictions.

The three, on trial with another five men, had pleaded guilty to plotting to cause an explosion. Seven admitted plotting to cause a public nuisance.

The eighth man, Mohammad Gulzar, was cleared at Woolwich Crown Court.

The group had been accused of plotting to bring down transatlantic airliners with home-made liquid explosives, disguised as soft drinks.

But after more than 50 hours of deliberations, the jury did not find any of the defendants guilty of conspiring to target aircraft.

The jury was also unable to reach verdicts against four of the men in the six-month trial, all of whom were accused of recording martyrdom videos.

‘Inspired by al-Qaeda’

The court heard prosecutors allege that the eight men were planning to carry liquid explosives on to planes at Heathrow, knowing the devices would evade airport security checks.

Police said the plot had been inspired by al-Qaeda in Pakistan – and the August 2006 arrests caused chaos at airports throughout the country.

The court heard that the alleged plot could have caused unprecedented casualties, with a global political impact similar to the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

But in their defense, the seven men who had recorded videos denouncing Western foreign policy said they had only planned to cause a political spectacle and not to kill anyone at all.

The ringleader, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, of Walthamstow, east London, created home-made liquid explosives in a flat which prosecutors said were designed to evade airport security.

He and five of the others – Ibrahim Savant, 27, of Stoke Newington, north London, and, from east London, Umar Islam, 30, of Plaistow, Hussain, 27, of Leyton, and Waheed Zaman, 24, and Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, both of Walthamstow – had recorded what the prosecution alleged were “martyrdom videos” denouncing the West and urging Muslims to fight.

Prosecutors said the bombers would then have completed and detonated the devices during their flights once all the targeted planes had taken off.

‘Political spectacle’

Sarwar was said in court to be the quartermaster of the plot, buying supplies needed to make the bombs.

Prosecutors said that Mr Gulzar, cleared by the jury, had flown into the country to oversee the plot’s final stages – something he vehemently denied during the trial.

The plot came to light after the largest ever surveillance operation involving officers from both MI5, the Metropolitan Police and other forces around the country.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain told the jury they had wanted to create a political spectacle in protest over foreign policy. It would have included fake suicide videos and devices that would frighten rather than kill the public.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, along with Savant, Islam, Khan, and Zaman, also admitted conspiring to cause a public nuisance by making videos threatening bombings.

September 5, 2008

S bomb ‘kills five in Pakistan’

S bomb ‘kills five in Pakistan’

Pakistani paramilitary troops patrol streets in Jamdrud, an area of Pakistan's Khyber tribal region, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008.

Tensions in the border region are rising

At least five people have been killed in another suspected US missile strike on militant targets in Pakistan’s border region, Pakistani officials say.

Officials said a missile was launched by a suspected US aircraft in the North Waziristan tribal area.

Pakistan’s army says it is investigating the incident.

It would be the third attack in three days allegedly carried out by US forces, who have not officially confirmed their involvement.

Unilateral strikes

Some reports say Islamist militants were killed in Friday’s attack, while local TV channels said women and children were among the dead.

map

Witnesses said missiles fired by an unmanned aircraft hit one or two houses in the village of Kurvek, about 30km (18 miles) west of the main town of Miranshah in North Waziristan.

“Two drones were flying in the area. They fired three missiles,” one unnamed witness told Reuters news agency.

Several people are reported to have been injured in addition to those killed.

Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said reports of the incident were being investigated.

“Pakistani forces did not carry out any activity in the area,” he told the AFP news agency.

This would be the third such attack in three days, including an unprecedented ground assault allegedly carried out by American commandos.

In recent months US forces have stepped up unilateral strikes on Taleban and al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

They say Pakistan – a key US ally in the “war on terror” since 2001 – is not doing enough to stem the flow of insurgents across the border into Afghanistan.

Pakistani security officials suspect the Americans are trying to hit senior al-Qaeda targets ahead of forthcoming US presidential elections, our correspondent says.

Targets

At least two senior al-Qaeda figures are believed to have been killed in US missile strikes on Pakistani territory this year.

A senior al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, Abu Laith al-Libi, was reported killed in February, while Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, described as a leading al-Qaeda chemical weapons expert, died in July, reports said.

It is not clear who the targets of strikes this week might have been.

On Thursday, at least five people were killed in a missile strike in the village of Mohammad Khel near Miranshah. Officials said all five were low-level militants of Arab origin.

Meanwhile, large numbers of people have decided to leave their settlements near Angor Adda in South Waziristan.

The town was attacked on Thursday by foreign troops carried across the border from Afghanistan by helicopter, Pakistan’s government says.

Officially, the US military has no knowledge of such an incursion, but Pentagon sources have confirmed that US commandoes carried out the raid.

Pakistan responded furiously, summoning the US ambassador and calling the attack a gross violation of its sovereignty.

Pakistan’s army has warned that such direct US action could rally more tribesmen behind the Taleban and incite a wider uprising.

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

August 30, 2008

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Superferry 14 on fire in Manila Bay in February 2004

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod

A leading suspect wanted over the Philippines’ worst militant attack has been arrested in Bahrain and returned to Manila, officials have said.

Ruben Pestano Lavilla Jr, 35, is wanted for alleged involvement in the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that led to 116 deaths in a subsequent fire.

He was the “brains” behind an Islamic group allied to two al-Qaeda affiliated organizations, Manila officials say.

They say he was detected after document checks by Manila’s embassy in Bahrain.

The arrest had not been made public while Philippine officials prepared deportation papers.

‘Fled’ country

Marcelino Libanan, head of the immigration commission, told Reuters news agency that Mr Lavilla was checked after trying to get a bank loan and had been working as an interpreter at the Philippine embassy.

However, Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor told the AP agency that the arrest came after Mr Lavilla submitted documents for a job at the embassy.

Mr Lavilla is alleged to have fled the Philippines a month after the ferry attack.

He is accused of being the mastermind behind the Rajah Solaiman Movement, blamed for several bomb attacks in Manila in 2004 and 2005.

The movement is said to be linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Muslim militant groups, based in the southern Philippines.

Mr Blancaflor said: “If you are a terrorist, wherever you are, wherever you hide, the law will catch up with you – that’s the most important thing here.”

The ferry blaze was South East Asia’s second-worst militant attack after the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people.

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod in the central Philippines when it caught fire on 27 February 2004.

August 20, 2008

Deadly bombings hit Algerian town

Deadly bombings hit Algerian town

Map of Algeria

Eleven people have been killed and 31 injured by twin car bombs near a hotel and a barracks in Bouira, south east of the Algerian capital, state media say.

Witnesses said the blasts went off in quick succession.

The attacks come one day after a car bomb killed 43 people and injured a further 38 at a police college near Boumerdes, east of Algiers.

In recent months Algeria has suffered regular attacks blamed on Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda.

The country has been rebuilding with the help of oil and gas profits after a brutal civil conflict in which Islamist militants led an insurgency against state security forces.

Many recent attacks have happened in the area east and south of Algiers, which borders the mountainous Berber region of Kabylia.

Passenger bus

Wednesday’s bombs went off near the Hotel Sofi and the military headquarters in Bouira, which is about 100km (62 miles) from Algiers, state media reported.

The blast at the hotel hit a nearby passenger bus, reports said.

One of the bombs ripped off the front of the military headquarters, and the blasts could be heard in a radius of several hundred meters, witnesses said.

Just a day earlier, a suicide car bomber drove a car packed with explosives into the entrance of a paramilitary police college in Issers, near Boumerdes, about 50km (31 miles) east of Algiers.

ATTACKS IN ALGERIA 2007-2008
19 August 2008: 43 killed by suicide bombing outside police college in Issers
10 August 2008: Eight killed by suicide bombing outside police station in Zemmouri
8 June 2008: French engineer and driver killed east of Algiers
5 June 2008: Roadside bomb kills six soldiers east of Algiers
January 2008: Suicide bombing kills four policemen in Naciria
December 2007: Twin car bombs kill at least 37 including 10 UN staff in Algiers
8 September 2007: 32 die in bombing in Dellys
6 September 2007: 22 die in bombing in Batna
July 2007: Suicide bomber targets barracks near Bouira, killing nine
April 2007: 33 killed in attacks on government offices and a police station in Algiers

That attack hit military police recruits who were waiting outside the building before an exam.

The government said 41 of those killed were civilians.

After Tuesday’s attacks, Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said militants were trying to “loosen the net closing around them”.

Algeria’s government has long said Islamist insurgents are desperately seeking to raise their profile as they are isolated by security forces.

There have been no immediate claims of responsibility for this week’s attacks.

Previous bombings have been claimed by the North African branch of al-Qaeda, known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Those included twin suicide car bombings in Algiers – one against the offices of the UN – that killed at least 37 people in December.

In recent years, Algeria has been slowly recovering from a conflict that began in 1992 when the army intervened to stop hardline Islamists winning the country’s first multi-party elections.

Violence has been greatly reduced since the 1990s, but since last year there have been a series of devastating suicide bombings and several attacks against international targets.

The attacks have largely been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which was formed from the remnants of Algeria’s insurgency and was previously known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.


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Sarkozy renews Afghan commitment

Sarkozy renews Afghan commitment

President Sarkozy with President Karzai at the presidential palace in kabul

The French president insisted that France was committed to Afghanistan

President Sarkozy has pledged France’s continued commitment to Afghanistan after visiting French troops and meeting President Hamid Karzai.

He was speaking in Kabul after French troops suffered some of their worst casualties in recent times.

Ten French soldiers were killed and 21 injured in an ambush by Taleban fighters east of the capital, Kabul.

Mr Sarkozy said France was committed to the fight against terrorism, and  the mission in Afghanistan would continue.

‘Indispensable’

“Even though the toll is so high, you should be proud of what you are doing. The work that you’re doing here is indispensable,” Mr Sarkozy told his troops.

“We’re going to make sure that the means are put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.” France has 2,600 troops serving in Afghanistan.

The 10 deaths brought to 24 the number of French troops killed in Afghanistan since 2002, the AFP news agency reports.

There was more violence on Afghanistan on Wednesday. A bomb went off in a busy market in the south-eastern province of Khost.

Officials say that in addition about 19 Taliban fighters were killed in two separate clashes in Khost and in the province of Paktia.

Tributes paid

The loss of life is thought to be the heaviest suffered by the French military since 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut in 1983.

The arrival of Mr Sarkozy, who was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defense Minister Herve Morin, was marked by a flurry of helicopters across Kabul on Wednesday.

The cause is just, it is the honour of France and its armies to defend it
Nicolas Sarkozy
French president

On a brief visit on Wednesday, he saw the mortuary at the French camp in the capital and spoke to injured soldiers who were involved in the battle. He also held talks with President Hamid Karzai.

His message was one of support not just to the troops, but also to the Nato alliance and Mr Karzai.

The French deployment is not popular at home and the decision was made in April to send extra fighting troops to an even more dangerous part of the country, our correspondent adds.

Ambush

The French troops were caught up in fighting that started on Monday in the area of Sarobi, some 50km (30 miles) from Kabul.

French troops in Afghanistan (archive image from 2006)

Mr Sarkozy said the troops were killed in “an ambush of extreme violence”

French defence officials said about 100 soldiers – from France, the US and Afghanistan – were on a reconnaissance mission when bad road conditions forced them to stop their vehicles.

A group of French soldiers was sent ahead on foot to check the terrain, but they were ambushed by Taleban fighters and nine were killed.

A tenth French soldier was killed when his vehicle overturned on the road.

An Afghan intelligence officer told the BBC the troops were ambushed from several directions by heavily armed Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

The fighting went on for 24 hours and it is understood that reinforcements had to be called in to airlift the troops to safety.

The deaths came amid warnings that insurgents are closing in on Kabul.

The French recently took over control of the Kabul regional command, which includes Sarobi.

ISAF REGIONAL COMMANDS AND TROOP NUMBERS
Map showing foreign troop deployments in Afghanistan

August 14, 2008

Iraq suicide blast kills pilgrims

Iraq suicide blast kills pilgrims

Iraq map

Eighteen people have died and another 75 were injured after a female suicide bomber struck in southern Iraq.

The female attacker blew herself up while among a group of Shia pilgrims in the town of Iskandariya.

One witness said women were cooking dinner and children were playing when the explosion occurred.

Thousands of pilgrims are heading to the holy city of Karbala for a major religious festival this weekend marking the birthday of the 12th Shia imam.

Ahmed al-Saadi, a 34-year-old carpenter from Baghdad’s Sadr City district, told the Associated Press news agency: “Minutes after I passed the resting spot, I heard a big explosion. I turned my head back and saw big flames.

“We rushed to the site and saw charred bodies while wounded people were crying for help. Pots and burnt prayer rugs were scattered all the place.”

Iskandariya had seen a recent decline in violence due to an influx of US troops and a Sunni backlash against al-Qaeda.

Tens of thousands of Shia pilgrims are expected to flock to Karbala this weekend.

August 13, 2008

Al-Qaeda ‘warning’ for Mauritania

Al-Qaeda ‘warning’ for Mauritania

Gen Muhammad Ould Abdelaziz, 10 August 2008

Gen Abdelaziz has said he wants to tackle the roots of extremism

An internet message purporting to be from the North African wing of al-Qaeda has urged Mauritanians to take up arms against their coup leaders.

Last week, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz and other military officers toppled the country’s first democratically-elected president.

Gen Abdelaziz said defeating extremism was one of his main priorities.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is largely based in Algeria but has been blamed for attacks in Mauritania.

The government said it killed four French tourists last December, an incident that prompted the cancellation of the Paris-Dakar car rally.

It also blamed the group for attacking the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nouakchott, in February.

The internet message alleges that despite wide condemnation of the coup by Western governments, it would not have been possible without the approval of France, the United States and Israel.

The statement is apparently signed by the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalik Droukdal.

The BBC’s James Copnall in Nouakchott says Mauritania is extremely poor, and its young people are increasingly radicalised.

In addition the country is almost entirely an empty desert, and the vast open spaces make it easy for illegal groups to avoid detection.

That is one of the reasons the US has funded the Mauritanian military, our reporter says – although that aid has been frozen following the coup.

August 10, 2008

Algeria city hit by suicide bomb

Algeria city hit by suicide bomb

Map

Eight people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack in northern Algeria, the country’s national radio is reporting.

Another 19 people were injured in the blast, which happened overnight in the northern city of Zemmouri, about 50km (31 miles) east of the capital Algiers.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

The seaside city is a popular holiday destination, particularly during the hot summer months.

Explosives packed into a vehicle detonated outside a police station in the city, reports said.

The attack came a week after more than 20 people were injured when a police station in Tizi Ouzou, another northern city, was targeted by a suicide car bomber.

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing claimed responsibility for that attack.

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