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Friday, June 30, 2017

As US downs Assad aircraft tensions with Russia in Syria increase

(June 20)Russia has said that it will now consider US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its forces are also present as "targets" after the U.S. downed a Syrian jet.

The Russian defence ministry said it would track U.S.-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft although the statement did not say that they would shoot the aircraft down. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has announced that it is suspending flights in Syria as a precaution. In a statement the Russian Defence Ministry said: “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” On Sunday a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 jet in the countryside west of the city of Raqqa. This is the first ever downing of a Syrian jet by the U.S. since the civil war began in 2011. While the Assad government said the plane was on a mission against Islamic State militants, the U.S. claimed it dropped bombs near U.S. forces. Astonishingly, the U.S. apparently did not use the hotline with Russia ahead of downing the plane. The Russian ministry accused the U.S. of a "deliberate failure to make good on its commitments" under the deconfliction deal between the two forces.
The Russian statement applies only to coalition flights west of the Euphrates. Flights in areas east if the Euphrates will not be targeted. The U.S. can probably target the IS held city of Raqqa and other areas held by the IS east of the Euphrates. Perhaps the U.S. will also continue flights west of the Euphrates but will think twice before trying to shoot down any more Syrian planes or Russian planes either.
When asked about the downing, White House Secretary Sean Spicer said that that U.S. wanted to keep an open line of communication with the Russians. However he did not explain why it did not use such a communication line before shooting down the plane. Spicer said: "The escalation of hostilities among all of the factions that are operating there doesn't help anybody. And so making sure that people understand while we want to de-escalate the situation there, that we have to understand that we will always preserve the right of self-defense." An ABC news report said that the Syrian plane actually dropped bombs on rebel forces fighting the Islamic State rather than just near them. Even if this were the case the plane could have been alerted to what it was doing and demands made that it stop rather than shooting it down. As well, the rebels are an enemy of Assad. If anyone could bring up self defense as a reason for what they were doing it was the Syrian plane rather than the U.S. plane. The Russian Defense Ministry said: "Repeated combat actions by U.S. aviation under the cover of counter-terrorism against lawful armed forces of a country that is a member of the U.N. are a massive violation of international law and de facto a military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic."
Lt. Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Forces Central Command said: "As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace."
According to an ABC report the downing happened over the town of Ja Din, south of the town of Tabqa recently retaken from the Islamic State by the Syrian Democratic Forces an umbrella group of mostly Kurdish but also Arab fighters. The SDF came under attack in Ja DIn by Assad forces while overhead U.S. fighter jets flew overhead firing warning shots that turned back the advance of the Assad forces. A statement from Operation Inherent Resolve said:"Following the pro-Syrian forces' attack, the coalition contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established deconfliction line to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing. At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet."Note that the official statement does not say the bombs were dropped on the SDF fighters but near them! Whereas earlier in its report ABC had said it was on them. ABC makes the same incorrect claim on the appended video. The Syrian pilot of the downed jet was able to eject and was rescued later by Assad troops.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the air-safety hotline was not used and also noted that there were also Russian aircraft in the area when the plane went down. It may be that the hotline was used to warn the Assad forces advancing on the town of Ja Din but not to warn the pilot of the jet that was shot down which appears to have happened later. A U.S.-led coalition statement said: "The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated." If the U.S. seeks to defend rebel forces that it supports by that very fact it is bound to fight the Syrian regime whenever the regime comes into conflict with those forces. Such a stance inevitably will lead the U.S. into more conflict with the Assad regime and with Russia.
The U.S. believes it has the right to occupy a part of Syria and demands that a de-confliction zone around the town of Tanf in southwest Syria where there is a coalition training base for forces fighting the Islamic State not be entered by Syrian government forces. In the last few weeks the U.S. has mounted three air strikes on Assad forces when they tried to enter the area. The U.S. is becoming ever more involved in the war in Syria. As the Islamic State holds less and less territory conflicts of the U.S.-led coalition with the Assad regime, Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah are ever more likely.


Lebanese academic to be new UN special envoy to Libya

The former Lebanese Minister of Culture from 2000 to 2003, Ghassan Salame has been appointed as the new UN envoy to Libya by the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres according to a number of media sources.

Salame will also be the new head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Salame will be the sixth envoy appointed since Gadaffi was overthrown in 2011. In November 2015, the present envoy and Special Representative of the (Secretary General(SRSG) in Libya, Martin Kobler, took over from Bernardino Leon, the fourth envoy. Leon was offered a well-remunerated position in the UAE after he left his post.
Salame is the second Lebanese person to take on the role. Tarek Mitri was the second head of UNSMIL but held the job for less than two years leaving the job in August of 2014. The job is a tough task. Kobler was unable to push through the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) by having the House of Representatives (HoR) vote confidence in the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The vote of confidence failed twice, the last time on August 22 last year. Since that time, Kobler has not been able to gather together a group to amend the LPA and call together the HoR to hold another confidence vote as required by the LPA. Salame will be faced with the immediate task of trying to carry on the process which so far has had no success. Salame is apparently the 29th person to be offered the job of UNSMIL head. Salame is expected to take up his unenviable task the end of June.
After his stint as Lebanese Minister of Culture, Salame served as Senior Adviser for the UN Secretary-General from 2003 to 2006. Salame has taught international relations at the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University in Beirut and later at the University of Paris. While Lebanon's Minister of Culture Salame served on various ministerial committee including one on the reform of the higher education system and another on productivity in public administration. He was also appointed Chairman of the Committee and Spokesman for the Arab Summit (March 2002) and the Francophone Summit (October 2002) both in Beirut the Lebanese capital.
At present, Salame is Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs and also a professor of International Relations. He is the author of several books, and sits on the board of several organizations including the International Crisis Group, and the International Peace Institute. Salame will face the so far intractable task of trying to form one united Libyan government by altering the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement in a manner that the main opposed parties will accept.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Former Gadaffi air force chief rumoured to have returned to Libya

Gaddafi's last commander of his air force Ali Sharif Al-Rifi fled Libya in 2011 but is now reported to have returned to his home town of Waddan in the Al-Jufra area.

Al-Rifi fled in 2011 as Tripoli fell. He is thought to have fled over the border into Niger where he met the Tuareg leader and Gaddafi loyalist Ali Kana. Al-Rifi had previously served in the 1986-87 war with Chad, during which Khalifa Hafta,r now commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), was captured. The LNA are the armed forces of the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) government. After being captured, Haftar and his mean were abandoned by Gaddafi. At the time, Al-Rifi had been a ground forces commander during the war, organizing logistics and reinforcements from the central desert area of Al-Kufra.
Al-Rifi later moved to the Niger capital Niamey where he was a close associate of Saadi Gaddafi the third son of Moammar Gaddafi the former Libyan leader. On the the fifth of March of 2014 Saadi was arrested in Niger and extradited to Libya to face murder charges. His lawyer Nick Kaufman protested that it was doubtful if the process was legal as it was not clear that there was any court hearing or if Gaddafi was allowed a lawyer. In August 2015 video appeared that purported to show Saadi being tortured in prison in Libya. It is not known if at the time of Saadi's arrest if Al-Rifi stayed in Niger.
The second son of Gaddafi Saif al-Islam is also apparently free in Libya. He was released from prison in Zintan by the brigade that held him allegedly under an amnesty law passed by the House of Representatives. However, this was over a week ago and there have been no confirmed reports of his whereabouts. Former security chief Abduallah Senussi and other regime figures were also released from Habda prison and are thought to be free in Tripoli.
Back in March, the head of the Libyan National Army’s air force Major-General Saqr Geroushi is reported to have suffered a heart attack and to have been put in intensive care in Marj hospital. Geroushi has been one of Haftar's right hand men since the start of Haftar's Operation Dignity in May of 2014. He has had the heart condition for some time and had been in Jordan for treatment for part of 2016. Now that Al-Rifi is back in Libya he may perhaps take on some of the duties of Geroushi if he is still recovering. Members of the old Gadaffi regime appear to be welcomed back by Haftar and some may play a key role in Libya's future if Haftar has his way.
recent tweet confirms the return of Al-Rifi showing his return to an airbase in al-Jufra: "Ali Sharif Al-Rifi, Kadhafi’s airforce commander, arriving in Jufrah airbase. He fled in Niger in 2011 then Egypt & came back in east Libya."


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Interest rate rise by US Feds not likely to have much effect on consumer borrowing costs

(June 17) The US Federal Reserve increased short-term interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday to an upper limit of 1.25 percent. The increase will have a quite modest impact on consumer's borrowing costs.

The increase was widely expected. If the Feds continue to keep raising rates it would be wise for consumers to adjust now for any effect such moves might have later on. Increased rates get passed on to consumers who borrows causing higher rates for all types of loans including on credit car balances and car loans.
If you are planning on getting a new mortgage or if your present mortgage is variable rate, there could be an increase in the amount you pay. It might be wise to move from a variable rate mortgage to a fixed rate. Since rates are likely to continue to rise it might be wise to take out a mortgage now rather than wait for another increase.
As credit card rates could rise, it might be a good idea to try and pay down credit card debt. If you have a student loan with variable rates you could refinance the loan at a fixed rate. However, a recent report showed over half of students who requested refinancing were turned down.
Car loan costs will rise if Federal rates continue to go up. However, at a certain point the costs of borrowing will result in unsold cars and higher inventories that could reduce prices.
While banks may raise rates on borrowing they may be slow in raising the interest they pay on accounts. They may rather keep interest rates on deposits low to boost their own bottom line. The rate now is an abysmal average of 0.11 percent the same as a year ago. You could improve the rate by transferring money you do not require to a certificate of deposit but the money would be locked in for the time of the deposit.
This is the fourth interest rate hike by the Feds in the last 18 months. The increased rates may encourage foreign investors to invest more in the country as the return is greater. The Feds foresee one more hike this year if the economy remains on a solid footing.
While the individual increases may not seem like much the cumulative effect of the four recent changes since 2015 can add up. For example, someone with a $5,000 credit car balance who makes a minimum payment each month will find the interest increase added $700 in payments over the life of the loan according to Greg McBride, an analyst at Bankrate.com. On the other hand so far home and auto loan rates have barely moved since December 2015.
The Feds believe that the inflation rate will fall below the target 2 percent rate this year. The Feds now think that US GDP growth will be 2.2 percent rather than the 2.1 forecast in March. Unemployment is expected to be at a low 4.3 percent down from the March prediction of 4.5 percent. There is also a prediction of 1.6 percent rise in personal consumption expenditures, but this is down from 1.6 in March. Core inflation, excluding food and energy, is down from 1.9 percent to 1.7 percent.


US general claims 10 to 20 thousand US troops needed in Afghanistan to defeat Taliban

General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. army said that the 16-year-old U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was a disgrace.

Speaking with Fox News, Keane claimed that 10 to 20 thousand more troops were needed to win against the Taliban. Keane made his remarks just as reports emerged that Defense Secretary Mattis would send about another 4,000 troops to the country. Earlier recommendations were for from 3,000 to 5,000 to be sent.
Keane insisted that the report of 4,000 additional troops being sent is only speculation but that such an amount would not be enough to defeat the Taliban saying: "There's no doubt the 4,000 will be helpful. But the real question is: Will it change the momentum of the war to our favor? My judgment is it’s likely not to." Given that the combat mission in Afghanistan is supposed to be over and that at one time there were as many as 100,000 U.S. trips in Afghanistan and the Taliban were still not defeated it hardly seems wise to send more troops into the country. With so many troops there are bound to be more casualties. The recent reported insider attack will be but a drop in the bucket. The Pentagon confirmed with Fox News that no final determination had been made about sending additional troops. Nevertheless the 4,000 number has been reported in a number of places. Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Davis nevertheless said: "No decisions have been made." An official told Reuters last month that 3,800 troops could be sent but it could be changed depending on how many troops NATO allies were willing to send. The White House did not respond immediately to a request to comment.
Although a year ago Obama set a cap of 8,400 there are believed to be about 2,000 more than that there on a temporary basis. Keane retired in 2003. He blamed the Obama administration for failing to change the momentum of the war saying: "It’s 16 years we’ve been involved in this war and it’s an absolute disgrace that we have not ended this war before, favorable to ourselves. When we took the 100,000 plus troops out of Afghanistan – just left 8,000 – we took all the support that the Afghan Army had," including "attack helicopters and anti-IED intelligence, communications and logistics. We have to put that back if they’re going to be effective." Even Defense Secretary Mattis admitted that the US and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan and had told Senator John McCain that "we will correct this as soon as possible"":“We want a strategy, and I don’t think that’s a hell of a lot to ask." Keane also claimed that Taliban safe havens in Pakistan had to be destroyed and that the Pakistani military had to cease helping the Taliban.
Obama's withdrawal from the combat role in Afghanistan probably helped him politically. The cost in U.S. lives creates a political backlash that U.S. politicians are anxious to avoid. It is unlikely that the U.S. will throw good money after bad and sacrifice more lives for a battle that it is not clear that they can win without completely destroying Afghanistan, leaving them with an almost impossible task of rebuilding the nation, a task that the U.S. has not shown itself very willing to undertake. Any move to double or even triple the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is likely to renew controversy about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that after 16 years is the U.S. longest lasting conflict. However, the addition of a few thousand troops is as Keane points out unlikely to result in victory or even stop the Taliban from further advances.


Libya's oil production could reach one million barrels per day soon

Speaking to U.K. ambassador, Peter Millett, Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) chair Mustafa Sanalla claimed that Libya was on course to produce one million barrels per day by the end of July.

This production level has not been reached since back in 2013. Sanalla noted though that there were repeated attempts to disrupt production. Smuggling of oil and fuel and fallout from the Qatar crisis were also problems. The death of a worker in Libya's largest oil field recently caused a brief closing down of production as workers protested. Sanalla mentioned the need to improve safety for oil workers, the protection of the environment, and providing aid for local communities dependent on oil jobs.
Sanallah hosted the Turkish ambassador to Libya, Ahme Dogan. Dogan invited Sanallah to the upcoming World Petroleum Congress meeting to be held in Turkey next month. Even though the Turkish embassy has reopened in Tripoli, Turkish oil companies have yet to resume operations but Dogan hoped that Libya would soon be stable enough for the companies to return.
The NOC, back in February, was able to strike a deal with the huge Russian firm Rosneft for cooperation on oil. The NOC has also recently settled a dispute with the German oil company Wintershall at least on a interim basis. According to an NOC statement: "The agreement with Wintershall would allow an immediate resumption of production at Wintershall's concession areas in eastern Libya, where work was suspended due to an administrative dispute after the Presidential Council had decided to split the authorities of the NOC and the oil ministry with the NOC, keeping for itself the administration of oil investments."
The dispute between Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States and Qatar may have repercussions that could cause difficulty for the NOC. The HoR government of Abdullah al-Thinni has instructed the eastern-based parallel National Oil Corporation to shut down the Tobruk Hariga oil export terminal as crude from the port is exported by the international oil trader Glencoe. The Qatari Investment Company of Qatar has a nine percent stake in the company. Qatar has been accused by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt of supporting Islamic militants in Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood. Glencoe signed a long-term deal with the Tripoli-based NOC back in 2015 to export 160,000 barrels per day from the NOC subsidiary AGOCO. Back in July last year the two rival oil companies, one in Beida and the other in Tripoli agreed to merge but the deal appears never to have been completed, leading to a situation where the eastern company can threaten the Tripoli-based NOC's monopoly in areas where the HoR may have control.
Sanallah has warned against any interruption of existing contracts such as that with Glencoe or attempts to block exports from eastern terminals such as Harriga. He also warned the eastern company headed by Naji Maghrabi of selling any oil independently of the Tripoli-based NOC which is recognized internationally as the sole supplier of Libyan oil. There are unverified reports that the Beida-based NOC is in the process of selling a crude cargo to a Saudi trading company. Sanalla praised Haftar's LNA for handing back to the Tripoli NOC control of the four main Oil Crescent ports. We will soon see what Haftar's position is on these new developments.


US may send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan

President Donald Trump recently gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis could officially announce the increased troop level as early as next week.

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan now for 16 years with no sign of the war ending. Indeed, the Islamic State is now active in the country and the Taliban are gaining control of more territory. Mattis is now the third U.S. commander in chief in Afghanistan. The new force will be the largest since Donald Trump took power. Mattis had said that he did not have enough forces to help Afghan forces fight off the Taliban.
An anonymous administration official claimed that most of the additional troops will be used to train and advise Afghan forces. However, a smaller number will be used for counter-terror operations. The additional troops will no doubt result in more casualties. There have been several this year but the number will remain small in comparison to the period when the U.S. was involved in combat operations. In spite of the reports Jeff Davis a Navy Captain and Pentagon spokesperson said: "No decisions had been made". Earlier recommendations at the first of May were for 3,000 to 5,000 new troops.
Daulat Waziri, a spokesperson for the Afghan defense ministry said he supported the U.S. decision to send more troops saying:"The United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism. We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the NATO alliance. We are the frontline in the war against international terrorism." Even though Trump has given Mattis authority to set troop levels, Trump will still be held responsible for increasing U.S. involvement in America's longest conflict with no end in sight or even any clear idea of the U.S. aim or strategy. However, the troop levels are nowhere near that of their peak of more than 100,000 in 2009 under President Obama. While in 2001 Bush with Afghan allies were able to oust the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the group's rebellion still rages in 2017 with the addition of competing Islamic State fighters in a few areas. Obama had set a cap of 8,400 troops in Afghanistan although there are probably at least 2,000 more than that classified as temporary.
General John Nicholson the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan had advised that more U.S. troops were necessary to train and advise the Afghan military. Mattis has not up to now given his own thinking on a troop increase except to say that US and Afghan efforts are making progress in weakening al-Qaida and the Islamic State(IS). However, the main is opponent is not Al-Qaeda or the IS but the Taliban. Mattis told a House Appropriation panel that reconciliation remained the goal: "We're not looking at a purely military strategy. All wars come to an end. Our job is to end it as quickly as possible without losing the very mission that we've recognized, through several administrations, that was worth putting those young Americans on the line for." However, the Taliban are unlikely to agree to any peace unless all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan which seems unlikely in the near future. Indeed other NATO countries will also be asked to increase their troop deployments as the U.S. has done. Since 2001 the U.S. military has lost 2,400 and three were killed quite recently. As U.S. troops ground troops help the Afghan forces trying to slow down the Taliban advance they will inevitably become involved in combat with resultant casualties. However as long as the number remains small and most operations will be from the air there will not likely be much political fallout.
The Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah is not popular. After a recent truck bomb attack there were violent protests against the lack of security after a deadly truck bomb attack. The Americans could find that they also will also become the target of protests as their air and other attacks kill civilians. There may be more attacks against U.S. troops involving the very Afghan forces the U.S. is training.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

President Trump chooses a woman as new ambassador to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to nominate Kelly Knight Craft as the next American ambassador to Canada. The post has been vacant since the former ambassador Bruce Heyman appointed by former president Barack Obama resigned on January 20.

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The White House announced in a statement late Wednesday that Craft had been picked for the post. Maryscott Greenwood who heads the Canadian-American Business Council praised the choice saying: "I think it's an inspired choice on the part of the president. It's a complement to Canada that the White House would choose a person of Kelly's calibre, intellect and talent, so I am excited about the prospect."
Her nomination will need to be approved by the Senate. The Trump administration hopes to get her nomination approved quickly so she can be ambassador before the NAFTA trade negotiations begin in August. Craft is married to billionaire Joe Craft, president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, one of the largest coal producers in the eastern United States. In 2012 a profile of him in McClatchy newspapers said he was Kentucky's most powerful non-elected person. He was critical of the Obama administration's environmental policies. His licence plate has the slogan "Friends of Coal."
Nevertheless, Greenwood did not think her husbands business would hurt relations. Both Knight Craft and her husband have donated to her alma mater the University of Kentucky. Knight Craft serves as a trustee on the board of the university. Her husband's business have given $2 million to the Super PAC of Karl Rove American Crossroads and to other Super PACs. Knight Craft is said to close to the Republican Majority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. She has donated to and co-chaired fund-raising campaigns for him over the years. She is also involved in charitable work with the Salvation Army in Lexington, Kentucky. Knight Craft said of Trump's nominating her for the job: "I deeply appreciate the President's confidence in me, and am looking forward to the Senate confirmation process." The State Department has already vetted her. Knight Craft was appointed to a UN delegation back in 2007 by George W. Bush.
Mac Brown, co-chair of the Republican Party of Kentucky also sang the praises of Knight Craft saying: "She's an unbelievable, very nice woman who is extraordinarily hard-working," The US Senate over which McConnell presides is expected to deal with a number of major issues affecting Canada in the future, including tax reform, trade disputes, and the renegotiation of NAFTA.


NBA basketball star makes fourth visit to North Korea

(June 14) The former NBA star Dennis Rodman claims he was "just trying to open the door" as he visits North Korea for the fourth time. He said he would not raise the issue of Americans detained in the country.

However, Otto Wambier 22 , a US student who had been detained for a year and a half has been evacuated from the country for medical reasons. He has been in a coma for more than a year after falling ill shortly after his trial in Pyongyang in March of last year.
Rodman has called his visits "basketball diplomacy". On his last visit he sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim Jong Un at a stadium in the capital Pyongyang. Kim is a great basketball fan. He is one of the few Americans meeting with North Korean officials at this time of escalating tensions between North Korea the US and South Korea. Kim has been firing missiles regularly and also continues his nuclear program. Although there are four Americans being held now by North Korea, Rodman said he would not discuss them. Rodman said: "That is not my purpose right now. My purpose is to try and go over there and keep bringing sports to North Korea. That's the main thing. I'm pretty sure that I can do something that is positive." Rodman has called Kim a friend for life.
That Rodman is going back is a bit surprising as he kept getting intoxicated on the 2014 trip and it was reported at the end Kim refused to meet with him because of his condition. Rodman endorsed Donald Trump for president. Rodman shares Trump's anger at bad press. At the 2014 visit he said to CNN: “I don't give a s‑‑‑ what … I don't give a rat's a‑‑ what the hell you think. I'm saying to you look at these guys here,” he barked at CNN's Chris Cuomo. “Look at them. They're down here for one thing. They came here... We are the guys here to do one thing. We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we're going to take? Do you, sir?” At the time, Charles Smith, another NBA player who accompanied Rodman said: "Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later." Shortly after he came back Rodman went into rehab. His agent, Darren Prince said that Rodman was "embarrassed, saddened, and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words caused." It seems that Kim Jong Un still considers him a friend.
When Rodman was asked if he had spoken to Trump about the trip he said: "I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy of the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need." Rodman's last trip had caused outrage in the US. Senator John McCain said at the time: "I think he is an idiot". Many claim that the visit provides positive propaganda for Kim and criticise Rodman for not bringing up Kim's human rights violations. The Rodman trip is being sponsored by PotCoin , a cybercurrency for legal marijuana according to the New Zealand Herald.
It remains to be seen what positive results if any come from the meeting. Rodman said he would discuss the results when he returned home.
Given the dismal level of relations between the United States and North Korea at least Rodman's visit, although not official, may at least help to ease tensions. It could even lead to some move by Kim to ease tensions. As another Digital Journal article notes Rodman gave Kim a copy of Trump's the Art of the Deal. No doubt some in America will see this as providing aid for the enemy!


General admits that US-led coalition used white phosphorus in Mosul

New Zealand Brigadier General Hugh McAsian admitted that the U.S.-led coalition used white phosphorus during its operations in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

McAsian said that around 28,000 civilians have managed to reach safety from Islamic State(IS) held territory during the last few days. He claimed: "We have utilized white phosphorus to screen areas within west Mosul to get civilians out safely." This is the first confirmation that the white phosphorus has been used in Mosul. Although the coalition claims to have control now of 90 percent of western Mosul the UN claims there are still tens of thousands of civilians trapped in an enclave controlled by the IS.
Amnesty International has warned that the use of white phosphorus to produce smoke screens carries a deadly risk in urban settings noting that white phosphorus can cause "terrific injuries, burning deep into the muscle and bone". Sometimes the substance ignites weeks after being deployed creating even more danger. Amnesty documented the use of white phosphorus east of Mosul in 2016 and warned that its use near population centers "constitutes an indiscriminate attack and can be a war crime".
White phosphorus is not banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention(CWC) but its legality is linked to the manner of its use. In 2005 Peter Kaiser a CWC spokesperson said that the phosphorus can be used to camouflage movement but should not be employed as a weapon. The U.S. admitted it used white phosphorus in the 2004 battle for Falujah in Iraq and also In Afghanistan in 2009. Israel used it in the 2008 Gaza war. Israel has signed but not ratified the CWC. Neither Egypt, North Korea, or South Sudan have even signed the agreement. Israel pledged in 2013 not to use white phosphorus any more.
There are also allegations that white phosphorus is being used in Syria in the fight for the city of Raqqa held by the IS. An IS-linked media outlet Amaq has released footage that purports to show white phosphorus raining down on the city by night. While Amnesty International has not as yet been able to confirm the authenticity of the video footage it is nevertheless urging U.S.-led forces not to use the phosphorus in areas where civilians are trapped. One supporter of the campaign against the IS said that residents in the city are desperate for leaflets telling them where they can shelter during bombing campaigns.
The intensified air strikes on Raqqa are taking a huge toll on civilians. The UN reports the strikes have killed at least 300 civilians in Raqqa since March. Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry said: "We note in particular that the intensification of air strikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced."


Monday, June 26, 2017

3 Afghan civilians killed after an IED hit a coalition vehicle

In Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan three civilians were killed after soldiers opened fire after a roadside bomb hit a vehicle according to Afghan officials.

A spokesperson for the governor of Nangarhar, Attaullah Khogyahi said that soldiers opened fire after the explosion. The US military said that none of its personnel had been wounded but claimed there was an exchange of gunfire after the explosion. Khogyahi said: "As the bomb blast hit their vehicle, the US troops starting shooting." He said the authorities were investigating the incident.The US military said it had no official report of civilian casualties. In a news release the US military said: “We take civilian casualties very seriously, and all allegations are thoroughly investigated.”
All six US soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year have been killed in Nangarhar Province while fighting the Islamic State (IS). On Saturday three were killed in an apparent insider attack as shown on the appended video. A Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed they had planted the bomb in the Ghanikhei district bordering an area which is a stronghold of the IS.
An Al Jazeera report gives more details of the incident claiming that an Afghan civilian and his two young sons were killed. Ziyar Gul, a brick kiln labourer was at work with two sons, one aged eight and the other ten when they came under fire witnesses claim. Witness Azizullah Aziz said: "As soon as the blast took place, the US troops started firing indiscriminately out of fear." He said a third son escaped the firing and ran for help but when he came back his father and two brothers were already dead. Relatives claim that other members of the Gul family had been killed in a raid last year. Neyaz Gul, brother of Ziyar said:"Could they not see that the people they [US troops] killed were children and an unarmed man? How could they fire directly at children and kill them? Their bodies were in bits and pieces after being shot numerous times.No one is held accountable for killing innocent people like this in Afghanistan."
Douglas High, a spokesperson for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, confirmed that a roadside bomb had hit a convoy that was conveying both US and Afghan soldiers. He said that the soldiers used small arms in self-defence but that he had not received any official reports of civilian casualties.
A UN tally of civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2016 was the worst year since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began keeping records in 2009. Casualties included 3,498 civilians killed and another 7,920 wounded. US special forces have been concentrating on fighting an estimated 600 to 800 IS fighters mostly in Nangarhar but some in Kunar province bordering Nangarhar.
There are now about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan with a further 5,000 from NATO allies. US-led NATO troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since back in 2001 when the Taliban were toppled. Trump should soon decide what degree of increased involvement there will be for the US . Suggestions include 3,000 to 5,000 more troops including Special Operations forces who could carry out their own anti-terror operations. According to a recent Digital Journal article Trump will let the Pentagon decide on maximum troop levels.  As the appended video shows the US has suffered casualties at the hands of Afghan trainees.

Former rebel leaders lead polls in Kosovo election results

(June 12)Almost complete results from the Kosovo national election show that a coalition of ethnic Albanians, former leaders in the war of independence waged in 1998-1999 against Serbian troops, are leading, receiving about a third of the votes.

The Central Election Commission(CEC) reported that the coalition was in first place with around 34 percent of the votes with more than 99 percent of the vote already counted. Second were the Movement for Self-Determination with about 27 percent and third a coalition led by the former PM Isa Mustafa with about 26 percent. The final official results are expected later in the week.
There are 120 seats in the parliament with 20 of them reserved for ethnic Serbs and other minorities. Head of the Commission Vaidete Daka said that heavy traffic caused blockage of the CEC website temporarily and that final results should be posted later in the week.
Ramush Haradinaj, who is the nominee for PM of the leading coalition said in a rally in the capital Pristina that he knew that there was a lot of work to be done but that they could achieve it together. The nationalist Movement for Self-determination was also happy with the results as they doubled their vote from the last election. Their former leader Aibin Kurti is their nominee for PM. Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said that the election was a victory for hard-liners and would create " a lot of difficulties and problems" but said that an EU-mediated dialogue with Kosovo must continue. The Serbs consider Haradinaj a war criminal. The Serbs tried to get him extradited from France where he was detained on a Serbian arrest warrant.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but Serbia refuses to recognize its independence. EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn said that he hoped that Kosovo representatives sought a future perspective in which there were better living conditions and within the European Union: "It's now the responsibility of political leaders in the country to form — very fast hopefully — a new government ... it's so important for this country to stay committed to the reforms." A statement from the US Embassy in Pristina congratulated voters on the democratic elections but noted concern that there "some reports of outdated voter registries, double-voting, and other sporadic irregularities'. Nevertheless a statement said: "The voters of Kosovo have spoken, and now the critical process of forming a new government must begin. We look forward to working closely with whomever forms the new government."
Among the issues any new government must face is approving a border demarcation deal with neighboring Montenegro. The deal must be approved before Kosovo will be able to enter the EU's Schengen zone without a visa. A further issue involves some senior ethnic Albanian commanders from the Independence War who face indictments for alleged crimes against civilians both during and after the war. The government will no doubt be a coalition as no group won enough seats to form a majority.
The winning coalition was led by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of president Hashim Thaci. The media has dubbed the alliance the 'war wing'. PM nominee Haradinaj said that the elections were the best ever held in Kosovo: "The victory is convincing and makes us capable of operating further to create the country's government." The Movement for Self-Determination also claimed a victory in that it doubled its vote. It has pledged to take on rampant corruption in the government.
The election was called after 78 MPs of the 120 backed a vote of non-confidence in the government. This is the third election that Kosovo has had since declaring independence in 2008. Most of the 1.8 population in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians. The country is beset by economic problems with unemployment at a whopping 27.5 percent. Fully half the population is under age 30. Many young people leave the country to find work elsewhere in Europe. Turnout in the elections was a meagre 41.4 percent slightly below the 2014 turnout of 42.63 percent.

Puerto Rico voters overwhelmingly opt for state-hood but with abysmal turnout

(June 11)In a vote with historically low participation almost all those Puerto Ricans who voted today voted in favor of statehood. The other choices were independence or the present commonwealth status.

A recent tweet sums up the result: PUERTO RICO REFERENDUM- Become U.S. state: 97.1%- Independence: 1.5%- Status quo: 1.3% Turnout: 23%.
The turnout was historically low. The vote is non-binding. Ricardo Rossello the governor of the island and his government had been pushing for a vote for statehood as the best way to deal with Puerto Rico's debt. However, the two main parties had pushed for a boycott of the vote. This shows up in the turnout and the overwhelming result in favor of statehood.
Hector Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) which favors the present commonwealth status pointed out that most voters went to the beach or did everything but vote and claimed that most people did not actually want statehood. Only about 500,000 votes were cast. In the last vote in 2012 more than 1.9 voted with 800,000 choosing statehood. In 1992 almost 2 million Puerto Ricans voted.
In spite of the dismal turnout, Gov. Rosello said:"An overwhelming majority voted for statehood. Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens. This was a democratic process and statehood got a historic 97 percent of the vote. The federal government cannot ignore the results of this plebiscite and the will of our people".
As a US territory Puerto Rico does not elect members of the US Congress, but it does have a representative in Congress Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. She is pro-statehood and is forming a "Friends of Puerto Rico Caucus" that would press for statehood. She said: “As Resident Commissioner I will take this to Congress and defend it. I am taking it not just to Congress but to other forums, such as the Organization of American States."
Federico de Jesús, with FDJ Solutions in Washington is a former Obama and Puerto Rico government official. De Jesus says the plebiscite was unnecessary and costly:“This vote was a waste or precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints. Congress laid out a process through a provision in a 2014 law that said that if Puerto Rico wanted the federal government to pay attention to another status referendum, it had to follow certain rules. The current government of the Island entered the process and when it took longer than they wanted they decided to ignore the U.S. Justice Department’s plea for more time to evaluate the validity of the ballot language...Sadly, today's vote will thus go down in history as yet another non-binding glorified poll with no real effect on resolving Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States.”
Aside from the issues brought up by de Jesus, the low turnout will also provide a good reason for the US Congress to reject the results. It is ultimately up to the Congress to decide if it wished to take up the issue of the status of the island. Although the 2012 vote also favored statehood the US Congress never took up the matter.
Another report puts the debt load in Puerto Rico at upwards of $120 billion. The US Congress may not be interested in adding another state with a huge debt load. US Representative Luis Gutierrez, whose parents are from the island said that Congress would not do anything. Puerto Rico voters also tend to be pro-Democratic, another reason why the present Congress will not act on the referendum. The Congress seems unlikely to adopt a new state that would immediately require a federal bailout.
Nevertheless, Governor Rossello said of the present relationship: "The bad side of it is that we are not a full part of the United States. We're a territory or a colonial territory. We're aiming to change that and of course, from my perspective, I'd want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the nation."

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Name of head of Libyan unity government's state council appears on terror list

The Defence and National Security Committee of the eastern-based House of Representatives has issued a terrorism list that includes 75 lawmakers, politicians, military officers, clerics, activists, and journalists.

While not everyone would agree that all on the list are terrorists, they all are foes of the commander of the HoR military the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. A prominent member of the rival UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) Abdul-Rahman Al-Sawihili who heads the GNA's High Council of State was on the list. The Libya Observer describes Sawihili as an advocate of reconciliation with the HoR. Some time ago Sawihili met with the head of the HoR Ageela Saleh in Rome, a supposedly breakthrough meeting, but it appears that any attempt to amend the Libyan Political Agreement may be in jeopardy as the HoR can hardly negotiate with anyone they deem a terrorist one would think. Sawihili is identified as one of the commanders of the Qatar-funded Libya Dawn Operation.
The terror list includes 9 entities including several Shura Councils, Alnabaa/Tanasuh TVs, Libya Shield Forces, and also senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Libyan Fighting Group. The Muslim Brotherhood support the GNA and are represented on its Presidential Council. Those on the list are all said to have links to Qatar. The Committee urged the foreign ministry of the HoR to forward the list to KSA, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to to add to their own list of terrorists.
Tensions have been further aggravated by an HoR threat to arrest the GNA education minister Olman Abdul Jalil if he ventured into territory controlled by the HoR. The situation is further complicated by the reported release of the second son of Gadaffi, Saif. While some groups celebrated the news of Saif's release others condemned the release including authorities in Zintan itself where he had been imprisoned. In other centers such as the southern city of Sebha celebrations were reported.
Spokesperson for Khalifa Haftar and his Dignity Operation, Ahmed al-Mismari said on TV that Said is now free as per the HoR amnesty law:"He is outside Zintan city now and he can take part in any political process if no legal hindrances existed to obstruct that." A recent tweetremarks: "The much talked about Libya's HoR amnesty law excludes murder and embezzlement of public funds". The issue of Saif's release is further discussed on the appended video..