Daily Archives: March 26, 2011

Pentagon: US-led forces pound Libyan ground troops


Mariam Jamal Ismail, front right, and Randa Elzouzary, center, both from Libya, join protestors in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, March 26, 2011, condemning Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and in support for the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, approving a No-Fly Zone over Libya and authorizing all necessary measures to protect civilians.

Associated Press  |  Mar 26, 2011

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

WASHINGTON – A barrage of U.S.-led airstrikes opened the door for Libyan rebels to retake the eastern city of Ajdabiya Saturday, handing President Barack Obama a tangible example of progress as he defends the military action to war-weary Americans.

The administration has been under pressure to better explain why the U.S. was embroiling itself in another Muslim conflict and to clarify what America’s continuing role will be as it begins to turn control of the week-old operation over to NATO.

Obama cited “significant success” in the war Saturday, and he and others defended the U.S. intervention as lawful and critical to save thousands of lives and stabilize a strategically vital region in the Middle East.

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“The United States should not and cannot intervene every time there’s a crisis somewhere in the world,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. But with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi threatening “a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region … it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.”

The Plan — according to U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.)

And Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the events in the Middle East could be “the most important geostrategic shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Without military intervention by the U.S. and NATO, “the promise that the pro-democracy movement holds for transforming the Arab world could have been crushed,” he said in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

The Pentagon said U.S.-led forces pounded Libyan ground troops and other targets along the Mediterranean coast and in Tripoli, and the contested cities of Misrata and Ajdabiya in strikes overnight, but they provided no details on what was hit. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Darryn James, says there were no Tomahawk cruise missile strikes overnight.

All together, the Pentagon said the U.S. military launched nearly 100 strikes overnight, just slightly higher than a day ago.

“Every day, the pressure on Gadhafi and his regime is increasing,” Obama said in the Saturday address, which aired just after Libyan rebels retook Ajdabiya, celebrating in the streets.

Still, even after a week of U.S.-led air strikes, Pentagon officials say that forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are a potent threat to civilians. And they are looking at plans to expand the firepower and airborne surveillance systems in the military campaign, including using the Air Force’s AC-130 gunship armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors, as well as helicopters and drones.

Obama, who will speak to the nation Monday evening, has been roundly criticized by lawmakers for not seeking more Congressional input on the war.

Top State Department lawyer Harold Koh said Saturday that U.S. had “ample international legal authority” to intervene in Libya and all Congressional requirements were met.

He said the “nature, duration and scope” of the operation do “not rise to the level” of requiring anything more than has already been done in terms of US law, he said.

“I wish I lived in a world in which intervention was unnecessary, I don’t,” he said. He added that, “sometimes non-intervention is failure” citing the Bosnian city of Srebrenica and Rwanda.

Former Libyan ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali called Libya a unique situation.

“If no action will be taken, we will have another massacre in Africa that will be remembered like Srebrenica and Rwanda,” he said. “It was the right action at the right time.”

U.S.-led forces began missile strikes last Saturday to establish a no-fly zone and prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people.

American officials have said they won’t drop bombs in cities to avoid killing or wounding civilians — a central pillar of the operation. Yet they want to hit the enemy in contested urban areas.

Army Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. officer in charge of the overall international mission, told The Associated Press, the focus is on disrupting the communications and supply lines that allow Gadhafi’s forces to keep fighting in the contested cities.

Ham said in a telephone interview from his U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, that the U.S. expected NATO would take command of the no-fly zone mission on Sunday, with a Canadian three-star general, Charles Bouchard, in charge. Bouchard would report to an American admiral, Samuel Locklear, in Locklear’s role as commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, he said.

But as the Obama administration works to step back in the Libya campaign, it was still not clear Saturday when the U.S. military’s Africa Command would shift the lead role in attacking Libyan ground targets to NATO. U.S officials say the alliance is finalizing the details of the transfer this weekend.

NATO airstrike targeting militant commander kills Afghan civilians

In an air attack on two vehicles in Helmand province, an undetermined number of civilians are killed and wounded along with the suspected militant, NATO says. Helmand officials reportedly say seven civilians died.

Los Angeles Times | Mar 27, 2011

By Alex Rodriguez

Islamabad, Pakistan — A NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan targeting Taliban militants accidentally killed civilians, NATO said Saturday, the latest in a string of deaths this month that have inflamed tensions between Washington and the Afghan government.

The incident occurred Friday in Helmand province, a longtime Taliban stronghold and one of the focal points of a U.S. troop buildup to retake southern Afghanistan from the insurgents’ control. A NATO spokesman said a coalition forces aircraft launched a strike on two vehicles, one of which was thought to be carrying a senior Taliban commander.

The Taliban commander was believed killed in the airstrike, although that has yet to be confirmed, the spokesman said. But when North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops investigated the wreckage of the vehicles, they discovered that civilians had been killed and wounded in the strike. NATO investigators hadn’t determined the number of civilians killed and wounded, the spokesman said.

Helmand provincial authorities told the Associated Press that seven civilians were killed in the airstrike and five others were wounded. The civilians were in a car that was near the targeted vehicles, Helmand authorities said.

Civilian deaths in U.S. and NATO operations have severely strained relations between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government. Although insurgents kill many more Afghan civilians than coalition forces do, the issue resonates more intensely with an Afghan population that dislikes the presence of Western soldiers in the country.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations, 2,777 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and roughly three-fourths of those deaths were attributed to suicide bombings, roadside bomb attacks and other actions by insurgents. The number of civilian deaths attributed to NATO forces dropped 21% in 2010, the U.N. said.

In March, however, Afghan civilians have been killed in five incidents attributed to coalition forces.

The March 1 deaths of nine Afghan children mistakenly targeted by NATO airstrikes and artillery fire in the eastern province of Kunar triggered a fiery response from Karzai, who called the attack “ruthless” and warned that civilian deaths and injuries undermined NATO’s efforts to defeat the insurgency. The nine boys, between the ages of 8 and 14, had been gathering firewood on a mountainside when they were mistaken for Taliban insurgents who had fired on a nearby U.S. military base.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, apologized for the incident, saying “these deaths should never have happened.”

On March 14, a NATO airstrike in Kunar killed two youths who had been mistaken for insurgents planting a roadside bomb, NATO and local Afghan officials said. A week earlier, a cousin of Karzai’s was killed in a night raid carried out by coalition forces in the southern province of Kandahar.

On Wednesday, a NATO helicopter accidentally killed two Afghan civilians during an attack on insurgents in the eastern province of Khowst. The airstrike killed a leader in the Afghan Taliban wing known as the Haqqani network and two other insurgents. The men were in a car at the time of the attack. Just before the airstrike, two civilians emerged from a ravine and were walking by the insurgents’ car when the attack took place.

Lord Chancellor of Britain: ‘Bombing Libya could provoke Lockerbie-style revenge attack on Britain’

Daily Mail | Mar 26, 2011

By Lucy Collins

Kenneth Clarke has warned that Britain’s aerial bombardment of Libya could result in a Lockerbie-style revenge attack on the UK if Colonel Gaddafi is not deposed.

The Lord Chancellor said failing to oust the Libyan leader leaves the UK open to a retaliatory attack.

Britain, along with other European nations and the U.S., has been policing the UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya to protect the rebels involved in the widespread civil uprising against the despot.

Mr Clarke told the Guardian: ‘We do have one particular interest in the Maghreb [the western region of North Africa], which is Lockerbie.

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‘The British people have reason to remember the curse of Gaddafi – Gaddafi back in power, the old Gaddafi looking for revenge, we have a real interest in preventing that.’

RAF fighter jets have been taking part in targeted bombing raids in Libya, and British special forces have been operating on the ground in the oil rich desert nation.

The Lockerbie disaster saw Pan Am flight 103 blown up mid-air in 1988, resulting in the deaths of 259 people on board the U.S.-bound plane and 11 people on the ground.

Britain’s worst ever terrorist attack takes its name from the small Scottish town which bore the brunt of the atrocity.

Mr Clarke indicated that no-one in government has a clearly defined idea of when Britain’s involvement in Libya should come to an end.

He said: ‘I am not in the Foreign Office, fortunately, so I am not too worried by my remarks.

‘But I am still not totally convinced anyone knows where we are going now’.

Mr Clarke also said he believes the British people will support the military intervention in Libya ‘for as long as it takes, so long as they think we are protecting innocent civilians, many of whom seem to share our values against an evil dictator’.

He also told the newspaper that the UN resolution on Libya ‘represented a significant event in the evolution of the world order’.

Mr Clarke said: ‘What we seem to have almost established in the international law is the humanitarian basis which can, in exceptional cases, justify intervention by the international community.’

But he said it would madness to occupy another country while British troops are still in Afghanistan.

He said: ‘We are not going in anyone’s dreams, [going] in to start occupying the country.

‘We have ruled it out in the resolution, thank heavens. It would be mad to occupy another country while we are in Afghanistan.’

Khamis Gaddafi toured US military facilities weeks before Libya crisis


Khamis Gaddafi

A son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi toured US ports and military facilities just weeks before he helped lead deadly attacks on rebels protesting his father’s authoritarian regime.

Telegraph | Mar 26, 2011

Khamis Gaddafi, 27, spent four weeks in the US as part of an internship with AECOM, a global infrastructure company with deep business interests in Libya, according to Paul Gennaro, AECOM’s Senior Vice President for Global Communications.

His US trip was to include visits to the Port of Houston, Air Force Academy, National War College and West Point, Mr Gennaro said.

The West Point visit was cancelled on Feb 17, when the trip was cut short and Gaddafi returned to Libya, Mr Gennaro said. The uprising in Libya began with a series of protests on Feb 15.

By late February, forces controlled by Khamis Gadhafi were leading the brutal assault to retake Zawiya, a city near Tripoli that rebels captured soon after the uprising began.

Reports suggested that Khamis Gaddafi may have been killed earlier this week after a disaffected Libyan air force pilot crash-landed his jet in the ruling family’s headquarters. There has been no confirmation of his death.

Mr Gennaro said the US state department approved of the trip, and considered Khamis Gaddafi a reformer. He said the government signed off on the itinerary, at times offering advice that affected the company’s plans for Gaddafi.

State department officials denied any role in planning, advising or paying for the trip.

“We did greet him at the airport. That is standard courtesy for the son of the leader of a country,” said Mark Toner, state department spokesman. Mr Toner said the government was aware of Gaddafi’s itinerary, but “did not sign off on it.”

AECOM was not paid to arrange the trip, and did not pay for related expenses, Mr Gennaro said. He said the trip was arranged at the request of a Libyan, whom he declined to name.

Mr Gennaro was one of the AECOM executives who met with Gaddafi during the trip, to educate him on American corporate practices.

He said Gaddafi was “very, very interested in the planning, design, how do you advance large infrastructure projects.”

“That was the nature and the tenor of this internship,” he said.

Gaddafi, Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son, was pursuing an MBA at the IE Business School, in Madrid, Spain, until earlier this month. The school expelled him because of his role in attacks on Libyan protesters.

Khamis Gadhafi led the Khamis Brigade, one of several professional military units that are loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi.

US diplomats in leaked memos have called it “the most well-trained and well-equipped force in the Libyan military.”

Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links


Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against ‘the foreign invasion’ in Afghanistan Photo: AFP

Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Telegraph | Mar 25, 2011

By Praveen Swami, Nick Squires and Duncan Gardham

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25” men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.

Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.

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His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, “including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries”.

Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against “the foreign invasion” in Afghanistan, before being “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan”. He was later handed over to the US, and then held in Libya before being released in 2008.

US and British government sources said Mr al-Hasidi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or LIFG, which killed dozens of Libyan troops in guerrilla attacks around Derna and Benghazi in 1995 and 1996.

Even though the LIFG is not part of the al-Qaeda organisation, the United States military’s West Point academy has said the two share an “increasingly co-operative relationship”. In 2007, documents captured by allied forces from the town of Sinjar, showed LIFG emmbers made up the second-largest cohort of foreign fighters in Iraq, after Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, al-Qaeda issued a call for supporters to back the Libyan rebellion, which it said would lead to the imposition of “the stage of Islam” in the country.

British Islamists have also backed the rebellion, with the former head of the banned al-Muhajiroun proclaiming that the call for “Islam, the Shariah and jihad from Libya” had “shaken the enemies of Islam and the Muslims more than the tsunami that Allah sent against their friends, the Japanese”.

Cash-strapped states struggle to hang up prison cell phones

Reuters | Mar 26, 2011

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Prison inmates are letting their fingers do the walking by orchestrating crimes with contraband cell phones, as states scramble for ways to fight back despite budget woes that limit their options.

Until now, authorities had focused on nabbing smuggled cell phones, but in recent months Mississippi, Texas and California have experimented with disrupting inmates’ wireless calls.

The states are steering clear of violating Federal Communications Commission rules which ban jamming cell signals. But some officials complain alternative technology costs millions more, and that they cannot afford it.

Officials say inmates with smuggled cell phones have coordinated drug deals and ordered hits on prison guards and witnesses. As a result, Mississippi tacks on another three to 15 years to sentences of inmates caught using the cells.

But in California, a budget crisis compounded by overcrowded prisons has hampered efforts to punish inmates with smuggled cells — even mass murderer Charles Manson.

The 1960s leader of the Manson Family cult was caught in January for the second time with a phone, but as punishment he only lost 30 days of good behavior credit. That is because California does not criminalize contraband cells.

“When Charles Manson is caught with a cell phone, you know the problem is out of control,” said state Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved Padilla’s bill to make it a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to six months in jail to smuggle a cell to an inmate.

It would also stiffen penalties for inmates, but that has been the obstacle that blocked past versions of the bill, Padilla said. Lawmakers oppose anything that leads to inmates serving more time, because of a bloated prison population.

California has 162,000 inmates, which is over-capacity by some 70,000 bodies, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The most populous U.S. state also has a budget crisis, and on Thursday Governor Jerry Brown signed cuts and other measures to slice about $11 billion from a $27 billion deficit.

Padilla said despite the potential cost of holding inmates longer or implementing technology to stop their wireless calls, the state must deal with the problem.

“I think this rises above the level of common sense, and we need to make an exception,” Padilla said. His bill should make it to Brown’s desk sometime this year, he added.

SIGNAL STOPPERS

Last year, a Mississippi prison became the first in the nation to permanently install technology that blocks inmates’ calls on contraband cells, said Ken North, director of the state’s corrections investigations division.

At the rural institution known as Parchman Farm, a company called Tecore Networks built a cell tower that only transmits calls from pre-approved cell phone numbers, leaving contraband ones inoperable.

The system costs up to $3 million per prison, North said.

But Mississippi got the technology at no cost to taxpayers because Global Tel*Link, the company that manages inmates’ legal landline calls, folded it into their service in exchange for an extension of their contract, he said.

So far, the “managed access” technology at Parchman has stopped over 1 million cell phone transmissions. That’s a lot of calls for 3,200 inmates, and it is because many with contraband cells still dial several times a day. Some try to call from the floor, thinking it will help.

BEAT THE SYSTEM

“They’re inmates, they’ve got 24 hours a day to try to think of ways to beat the system,” North said.

Because the technology does not jam all phone calls, only the unauthorized ones, it avoids running afoul of the FCC and federal law that bans jamming signals.

Texas this month began experimenting with managed access technology at one of its prison units, where an inmate recently escaped and hooked up with a woman he met in an online chat room using a contraband phone.

But John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said installing a managed access system costs $2.5 million, compared to $500,000 to simply jam all calls.

“You’re talking a fifth of the cost, and so for a place like Texas where you have 114 facilities, that’s an awful lot of money for the taxpayer,” he said.

Padilla said California is also experimenting with stopping contraband signals, and is working with the FCC.

The FCC contends jamming technology can block cell signals of residents near a prison.

“We understand the concerns of state and local corrections officials and we’re working with them as well as industry to identify solutions,” said FCC spokesman Robert Kenny.

“Our biggest concern is it could interfere with 911 or emergency communications as well as commercial service.”

Parents flush out cameras from school toilets over privacy fears

Scotsman | Mar 21, 2011

By SCOTT McANGUS

TWO secondary schools in West Lothian are set to be forced to remove CCTV cameras from the pupil toilets after concerns were raised by parents.

West Calder High and Whitburn Academy have cameras covering the sink areas in toilets, but West Lothian Council is reviewing its guidelines following “a small number of complaints and concerns”.

It launched a consultation and the new rules, if voted through at a meeting tomorrow, would confine cameras to monitoring the doors of toilets.

The council also says CCTV would now only be installed in “sensitive” areas with the support of parent councils and that it would not be moved to other positions. The guidelines are the same for both primary and secondary schools.

Father-of-three Martin Malone, 37, from Bathgate, has two children at West Lothian schools.

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He said: “I can’t go to a school play or a football game and take pictures or video my children, but they want to film them in toilets? Are they having a laugh? There’s no way my children should be filmed in a toilet. Who would have had access to these images? What if someone wanted to use them for devious purposes?”

The Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers endorsed removing cameras from toilets, but the parent councils at Broxburn Academy, Bellsquarry Primary, Kirkhill Primary and Windyknowe Primary said the benefits outweighed any potential privacy issues.

The headteachers at schools where cameras were already installed said they deterred violent behaviour, vandalism and smoking and gave the children an “increased sense of security”.

But Dan Hamilton, from Big Brother Watch, which produces investigative research papers on the erosion of civil liberties, remained concerned.

He said: “Any right-thinking person would conclude that monitoring school toilets with CCTV cameras is a gross invasion of privacy. The risks of this footage falling into the wrong hands is too horrifying to think about. There is already more CCTV in schools in the UK than anywhere else in the world. CCTV should be used sparingly to help solve serious crimes, not to watch schoolchildren going about their day.”

The council said any footage would not be monitored and only viewed when the school wished to address an incident of vandalism or bullying. The footage would also only have been retained for a short period of time before being destroyed.

A spokesman added that the new policy restricting cameras to monitoring the doors of toilets was intended to support schools who “might want to address vandalism or bullying”.