Archive for September, 2011

BATTLE FOR SIRTE INTENSIFIES

September 28, 2011

The Telegraph in London on September 27, 2011, reported on heavy fighting in Sirte.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), broke weeks of resistance from Gaddafi loyalists to enter Sirte in recent days. But heavy gunfire has prevented them from reaching the city centre.

Anti-Gaddafi units who approached the city from the east were, for a second day, pinned down at a roundabout approximately a mile from the centre of Sirte.

“Gaddafi forces have placed a lot of snipers around the roundabout and it is not easy for us to advance forward until we get rid of the snipers,” said Ahmed Saleh, an NTC fighter.

Explosions of artillery rounds and exchanges of small arms fire could be heard from the roundabout. Nato warplanes, which have been pounding targets in Sirte to clear the way for NTC forces to enter, were flying overhead.

Gaddafi built lavishly, turning his birthplace – once a sleepy coastal town – into an informal second capital.

“We are very concerned about the people inside and near Bani Walid and Sirte,” said Georges Comninos, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Libya.

NTC fighters and people who have fled Sirte have alleged that pro-Gaddafi fighters were trying to prevent civilians from leaving, effectively using them as human shields.

“Gaddafi’s forces have surrounded the area, closed it off, by shooting at people,” said a man called Youssef, driving away from Sirte with his wife. “There are a lot of people who want to get out but can’t.”

OVER 1,000 VICTIMS FOUND IN LIBYAN MASS GRAVE

September 25, 2011

An AP report was published on September 25, 2011, by Metro citing Libyan revolutionary authorities saying they have discovered a mass grave containing the remains of 1,270 inmates killed by the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in a 1996 prison massacre.

The site was found near Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison, where the victims were killed on June 26, 1996, after protesting conditions at the facility.

The announcement was made on September 25 by Dr. Ibrahim Abu Sahima of the government committee overseeing the search for victims of the former regime.

He says investigators found the grave two weeks ago after getting information from captured regime officials and witnesses.

Officials will ask for international assistance in identifying the remains.

CHINA AND THE POWER SHIFT IN ASIA

September 25, 2011

In Washington Post Robert D. Kaplan (he is the author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power) on September 24, 2011, warned of a coming power shift in Asia:

Washington is obsessed with decline: the upshot of the worst economy since the Great Depression, the prospect of massive defense cuts that could signal the end of the American military’s imperial-like reach, the collapse of Arab regimes with which the Pentagon and CIA closely cooperated. But nothing of late quite captures what is going on in terms of a global power shift as much as the U.S. refusal to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets.

U.S. officials argue that upgrading Taiwan’s Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B jets will make them nearly as capable as the 66 new F-16 C/D models that the Taiwanese were seeking, and at a fraction of the cost. But the upgrades reportedly do not include the new engines necessary for added speed and will make it harder for the Taiwanese to retire their oldest jets as they had hoped. Clearly, the decision signifies a painful compromise for the Obama administration.

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going

GADHAFI CHEMICAL WEAPONS CAPTURED IN LIBYA

September 23, 2011

UPI on September 22, 2011, reported that Libyan rebels say they’ve found a stockpile of chemical weapons in the southern desert after pushing Moammar Gadhafi loyalists from the area.

A CNN crew taken to the site, near Sabha, by military forces loyal to Libya’s National Transitional Council said there were two warehouses filled with barrels marked “radioactive” and several plastic bags of yellow powder.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in 2004 confirmed the Libyan government had yellowcake, or processed uranium ore, stored in Sabha. The yellowcake can be refined to produce enriched uranium for nuclear purposes.

CNN said a U.S. Defense Department official, who declined to be identified, said Libya’s stockpile of uranium yellowcake would need to go through extensive processing, including enrichment, before it could be used to build a bomb.

The NTC said the town of Sabha has been mostly taken over by revolutionaries. Gadhafi was thought to be hiding in the town but no trace of him has been found.

SWEDISH ARTIST LARS VILKS TARGET OF ASSASSINS

September 22, 2011

Goeteborg Daily(Sweden) reported on September 21, 2011, that the three men who are in custody for conspiring to murder in Gothenburg planned to kill the controversial artist Lars Vilks.

The evidence in the case include a pocket-knife, observations at the Red Stone and notes in a program sheet.

The three men were arrested around midnight on September 10 and were first suspected for preparing to commit terrorist crimes. Two days after the arrest, the crime classification was changed to conspiring to murder.

The suspicions led to the evacuation of the opening party of the Gothenburg International Art Biennial on September 10. Lars Vilks himself was in Stockholm at the time.

PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD AND ICC JURISDICTION

September 20, 2011

In an article published by the The Weekly Standard online on September 19, 2011, is brought up the claim that if the Palestinians achieve U.N. recognition of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza there would be the possibility for the new “state” to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Thus the Palestinian Authority would be able to demand prosecution of Israelis at the ICC.

In January 2009, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of justice, Ali Khashan, submitted a formal declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC over the “Territory of Palestine” for all alleged crimes committed since 2002. The Rome Statute governing the ICC allows for such declarations to be made by states that have not yet submitted themselves to the court’s jurisdiction. The legal question the chief ICC prosecutor has been mulling over for the last two-and-a-half years is whether the PA can qualify as a “state” for this purpose. The prosecutor has yet to make a determination on the matter.

The original point of the Palestinian declaration was to create a situation wherein Israelis could be prosecuted in the ICC. Without such a declaration being recognized by the ICC (or a referral by the U.N. Security Council), the court has no jurisdiction over Israel (since Israel is not an ICC member).

Whether the prosecutor would be more inclined to accept the Palestinians’ position if the U.N. were to recognize a Palestinian “state” is unknown. However, an unavoidable side effect of the PA’s declaration being recognized would be that the Palestinians themselves would then become subject to ICC jurisdiction.

This was a price the Fatah-run PA was willing to pay in the past, since the only Palestinians whom they saw as being potentially susceptible to accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity were the mortal enemies of Fatah, the terrorist gang Hamas. Hamas is now senior partner with a Palestinian “government” hoping to achieve international acceptance.

The reality is: The persistent, deliberate and indiscriminate launchings of Hamas rockets at Israeli communities, the suicide bombings, and the shootings all constitute heinous war crimes or crimes against humanity. Moreover, there is little or no factual dispute about whether these attacks took place, who was behind them, at whom they were directed, and what their purpose was. On the contrary, attacks on Israeli civilians are a source of pride for Hamas. The Hamas leadership bears responsibility for these crimes. No investigations have been carried out by Palestinian authorities into any of these violations. For the ICC prosecutor, this would largely be a simple case. Moreover, members of other Palestinians factions engaged in terrorism, including elements of Fatah itself, would also become potential defendants if the ICC obtained jurisdiction.

By contrast, the most serious accusations made against Israelis seem to be crumbling: Recently, the chief U.N. factfinder on the Gaza conflict, Richard Goldstone, acknowledged that initial allegations of a deliberate Israeli policy to attack civilians were unfounded. Moreover, U.N. experts have pointed to a concerted investigation process on the part of Israel into alleged violations by Israeli personnel. This is important since in cases where a country has undertaken genuine steps to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing, the ICC is precluded from acting.

If the ICC recognizes the PA’s declaration and extends its jurisdiction to the territories, the PA will be obliged to either conduct genuine prosecutions against Hamas leaders and other perpetrators or render them to the ICC. Whatever the status of the Fatah-Hamas Unity Agreement, this would certainly become a highly divisive issue for the Palestinians.

Thus, for the Palestinians, the cost benefit analysis with respect to their ICC jurisdiction gambit has changed somewhat. It would seem they have much more to lose than to gain if the ICC grants their wish.

LIBYAN FORCES GAINING ON REMAINING QADDAFI STRONGHOLD

September 19, 2011

WSJ on September 18, 2011, reported that Sirte, the strongman’s hometown and the biggest remaining holdout, is shelled and rocketed.

The new government forces were tightening the noose around the coastal city that Col. Qaddafi aimed to turn into Africa’s capital, building it up as a showcase of his ambitions to be the continent’s leader.

On September 18 troops deployed long-range artillery, tanks, mobile-rocket launchers and 107-millimeter mortars around the city, pounding it in an attempt to force loyalists into submission.

“There are snipers on top of all the buildings, and we have to suppress them,” said Abdullah Abu-Zerib, commander of the Sdada Martyrs Brigade, one of several semiautonomous units that answer to the Misrata Military Council—itself under only loose control of Libya’s interim authority, the National Transitional Council.

As he spoke, rockets whooshed into the sky from the walled concrete compound behind him, and plumes of white smoke rose at impact sites in Sirte. A Soviet-made tank, painted with Libya’s revolutionary colors, climbed a sand berm by the compound and prepared to fire its cannon into the city.

Libya’s new interim authorities need to seize Sirte, which straddles the main coastal highway, to link the eastern and western halves of the country, reopening trade and supply routes.

SWEDISH STASI AGENTS REVEALED IN NEW BOOK

September 17, 2011

Slightly more than twenty years after the fall of communist East Germany, 57 Swedes who worked for the East German Stasi spy agency have been mapped in a new book.

Stockholm News on September 15, 2011, reported on a book recently published by Birgitta Almgren, professor of history at Sodertorn University College, south of Stockholm, on East German Stasi agents operating in Sweden until 1989.

Her research became possible first only in 2010 when the Swedish Security Service was forced to open its archives on the Swedes who helped the East German spy agency after a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court.

The book describes, among others, “the hard-boiled social democratic journalist” who “without flinching” betrayed party members, the secondary school teacher who received training in air defence technology for reconnaissance and observation, and the entrepreneur who gained business contracts in return for information.

But she is forbidden to name or to contact the people in the Security Service’s Stasi archives.

Almgren writes that Sweden was “a focus country” for the East Germany during the Cold War as a “bridge or buffer state” between East and West.

“From no other Nordic country came as many Stasi reports. “

Comment: Sweden is probably the only country in the West that is attempting to stop the opening of Cold War archives. Professor Almgren was allowed by the court to study the files of over 50 Stasi agents operating in Sweden but by court order not allowed to reveal names or contact the agents for comments.

It is time for Sweden to establish commissions for the research on Stasi and Soviet KGB espionage during the Cold War. It has since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 been impossible to write the full history Cold War history of Sweden because the state does not allow full access to the police files.

A US FOREIGN POLICY FOR FREEDOM AND HUMAN RIGHTS

September 14, 2011

The Weekly Standard reported online September 13, 2011, on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s foreign policy speech in North Carolina.

Senator Rubio began his speech at the Jesse Helms Center by citing Ronald Reagan and the Founding Fathers. “At the core of our strength are the ‘self-evident’ truths of the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “These are not just our rights as Americans. These are the rights of all human beings.”

But by the 1970s–“the era of détente, of defeat and of retreat”–the “idea of placing morality at the center of our dealings with other nations was derided by supposed sophisticates as unrealistic and uninformed,” Rubio said. “But then Ronald Reagan took these words to heart and he made them the center of his foreign policy—a foreign policy that even his critics now admit was remarkably successful.”

From this broad statement of principle, Rubio made a broad statement of policy. The United States doesn’t have “any intention of using force to depose every despotic regime on the planet,” he said. “But we must do what we can to champion the cause of freedom—not only with the power of our example but also with our money and our resources, our ingenuity and our diplomacy, and on rare occasion, when there is no good alternative and when our national interest is clearly at stake, our armed might.”

Rubio argued that promoting freedom abroad is not merely the morally right thing to do, it will make us safer at home. “Without our commitment to the rights of man enunciated by our forefathers, what are we? Just another big, rich country. But when we champion our ideals, we gain moral authority—and we gain physical security,” he said. “You see, we may not always agree with our fellow democracies, but seldom, if ever, do we fight them. The more functioning democracies there are—’functioning’ being the important quality—the easier we can breathe.”

“Now some suggest that America should heed the famous words of John Quincy Adams and go ‘not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,'” Rubio said, citing a favorite quote of realists. “The problem is if America turns inward and ignores the monsters abroad, they are likely to come here.”

As Rubio shifted focus to current foreign policy issues, he criticized President Obama for not doing enough to promote freedom in Iran, Libya, and Syria. And he warned that defense cuts would imperil the country. “I am a strong advocate of cutting unnecessary and wasteful spending, but the defense budget is not the biggest driver of our debt—it accounts for roughly twenty percent of our annual federal spending,” Rubio said. “By contrast, entitlement programs swallow more than half the budget and they are the main drivers of our debt.”
“The American armed forces have been one of the greatest forces of good in the world during the past century.

They stopped Nazism and Communism and other evils such as Serbian ethnic-cleansing. They have helped birthed democracies from Germany to Iraq,” Rubio said. “All they have ever asked for in return is that we provide them the tools to get the job done – and that we look after them and their families. They have never failed us in our time of need.”

“If this is to be another American Century, the world needs a strong America now,” Rubio concluded. “Because freedom cannot survive without us.”

A QADDAFI SON AND THREE GENERALS SEEK REFUGE IN NIGER

September 14, 2011

Convoys carrying Libyan regime loyalists began arriving in Niger in the first half of September according to an AP report published by Fox News on September 13, 2011. The three generals, including the head of Qaddafi’s air force and two of his regional commanders, reached Niamey, the capital, overnight Monday. They were joined on September 13 by al-Saadi Qaddafi.

Alambo, a rebel leader from Niger who fought for Qaddafi and who led the first convoy across the desert, said the commanders were pushed to leave Libya after a total breakdown in communication with the ex-ruler. Qaddafi was last in contact with his military leaders 3 1/2 weeks ago and his whereabouts are not known, he said.

The regime that Qaddafi tightly controlled for nearly 42 years unraveled once he was forced into hiding and no longer in touch with his field officers. Government officials say around 30 members of the fallen regime and their families are now in Niger.

Alambo, a member of the Tuareg desert tribe who became close to Qaddafi and is believed to have helped recruit dozens of Tuareg youths to fight during Libya’s civil war, said there is no longer any coordination between the arms of the loyalist army.

He said members of Qaddafi’s inner circle initially took cover in pro-Qaddafi bastions like Bani Walid and Sabha.

Qaddafi’s wife, daughter and several of his sons crossed into Algeria, prompting that country to close its border. The roads to Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Sudan were too risky because portions are controlled by rebel forces. The only exit became Niger, through an ocean of white dunes, guided by Tuaregs like Alambo.

Amadou, the Niger government spokesman who is also the minister of justice, would not say whether the loyalists would be granted political refugee status, but suggested that returning them to Libya was not an option.

Niger has so far agreed to hand over only the three regime members wanted by the International Criminal Court: Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his intelligence chief.

Washington’s State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on September 13 that authorities of Niger were working with Libya’s Transitional National Council, led by the former rebels, on the issue of al-Saadi Qaddafi.

“Our understanding is, like the others, he’s being detained in a state guest house,” Nuland said, describing the detention as essentially house arrest in a government facility.