Category Archives: War

Syria’s chemical weapons concern Israel

via UPI: 

JERUSALEM, Jan. 28 (UPI) — Amid growing fears that Syria’s stockpile of unconventional weapons may fall into terrorists’ hands, Hezbollah set up bases in Syria, an Israeli news site said.

Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and other governments, recently set up a number of bases near chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, possibly in preparation to transfer them to Lebanon, Ynetnews.com said Monday.

Ynetnews, however, didn’t give the source of its information.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons is considered to be the largest in the world, the Israeli website said, noting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has conducted a number of security assessments on the issue.

Netanyahu recently dispatched national security adviser Yaakov Amidror to Moscow to discuss the issue and steps to be taken to prevent Assad’s weapons arsenal from falling into the wrong hands, Maariv said. Amidror’s visit was apparently coordinated with the United States, the newspaper said.

Russia could influence Assad to increase security around weapons sites or search for another solution that will be acceptable in Israel, Israeli government sources told the Hebrew language daily.

In the backdrop of Syria’s chemical weapons threat, the Israeli army on Sunday deployed two Iron Dome missile defense batteries in northern Israel, including one near Haifa. The army described the move as a routine training step.

Syria has a border along northeastern Israel.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned Sunday the chances of Assad surviving are slipping away. Speaking to CNN at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Medvedev said “the chances of him surviving are slipping away as the days and weeks go by. But once again, it should not be up to us. It should be up to the Syrian people.”

“Take a life to save a life”: Prince Harry reveals he killed Taliban fighters during Afghan tour of duty

via Mirror: 

Fighter pilot: Prince Harry

The brave pilot said while he was happy to be in the thick of the action picking off the enemy in his Apache helicopter

Hurtling through the skies above war-torn Helmand, Prince Harry was only too aware his Apache helicopter could have been shot down at any moment.

And the 28-year-old knew if he found himself in Taliban sights he would have no choice but to take them out first.

In an unprecedented interview with a senior royal, Harry admitted he had killed rebels during his 20-week tour of Afghanistan as he put his life on the line to protect troops on the ground and evacuate comrades wounded in battle.

But the brave pilot said while he was happy to be in the thick of the action picking off the enemy in the Apache, he admitted he preferred to be on the ­front line with his men – as he was on his last tour to Helmand in 2007-2008.

And he spoke about the attack at his Camp Bastion base on his birthday last September that many believed was a Taliban bid to murder him.

Asked if he had killed insurgents, Harry replied: “Yeah, so lots of people have. The squadron’s been out here. Everyone’s fired a certain amount.

“Take a life to save a life. That’s what we revolve around, I suppose.

“If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.

“But essentially we’re more of a ­deterrent. But ­occasionally we get taken on, the guys get taken on, even when we’re in the overhead.

“But it’s not just about the shooting, it’s about giving the effect to the enemy guys on the ground, and that’s not always pulling the trigger.”

But Harry insisted killing the enemy was not what motivated him to become an attack helicopter pilot.

The prince, known as Captain Wales, is due to arrive back home on Wednesday after his mission, where he flew deadly sorties over Taliban strongholds where rebels were routinely armed with RPGs and other highly-effective weapons.

Speaking about the missions he flew in the £45million Apache as a co-pilot gunner, Harry told of the buzz he got when the call came to launch.

 

Prince Harry
On the trigger: Harry at the controls of an Apache helicopter
PA
Prince Harry
Top gun: Prince Harry has flown scores of missions in Afghanistan
PA

 

He said: “Every time you run to the aircraft you get that adrenaline rush.

“Once you’re in you’ve got to try to slow yourself down because otherwise if the adrenaline’s pumping too much and everything happens too quickly, then you’re going to miss something.

“We get to the craft as quick as possible and six-and-a-half, seven minutes is the quickest we’ve got it going.”

From his seat in the front of the two-man cockpit, Harry is in charge of the weapons, which includes Hellfire missiles, rockets and a 30mm gun.

He uses a monocle-style gunsight to target the enemy. Known as a “slave to the eye” the system detects where he is looking and adjusts the surveillance and weapons sensors in the aircraft to follow his field of vision.

The prince admitted he and his comrades often fly into the unknown once they leave base on a mission.

He said accompanying Chinooks on casualty evacuation missions was the most important role for Apaches.

Speaking of one mission, he added: “Well, you never really know until you get in the aircraft.

“It was 18 klicks ­(kilometres) due west of here at an American base for an Afghan soldier.

“We don’t really know much more details than that, whether he was shot, or whatever.

“But it’s another part of the country that we’ve never been to and hopefully he’ll be all right and hopefully we were quick enough to get there and do the job. We’re only there for the Chinook guys anyway and the portable hospital.

“It all happens very quickly. Once you’re there, who knows what the ­situation’s going to be like.”

And speaking of unleashing the ­sophisticated and very powerful ­weaponry in the helicopter, he said: “When you fire, you still get the cordite smell, which is bizarre.

“The whole floor vibrates and when you fire a missile the whole aircraft shudders a little bit.”

The Apache pilots’ 12-hour very high readiness shifts are manned by four crew with two aircraft.

They are on standby to deploy ­immediately to unplanned operations.

Harry said the VHR missions are the most exhilarating because of their ­unpredictability and immediacy.

 

Prince Harry
Shift: Prince Harry does a pre-flight check of his Apache helicopter
PA
Prince Harry
Not a prince here: The young royal is known as Captain Harry Wales in the army
PA

 

He added: “It is probably the most rewarding if you’re busy. You can fly up to seven-and-a-half hours in a day.

“We did seven hours 10 the other day, which is exhausting.

“And other days you can be in and out of the tent eight or 10 times doing half an hour here, 45 minutes there, etc.

It’s definitely the one that has the most exciting end product.”

Harry told how one minute he could be sitting with his feet up sipping a coffee and the next he and his co-pilot are rushing to the ­helicopter for a “shout”.

He has to hold his 9mm SIG pistol tight to his waist as he runs.

The two aircraft are already fuelled, fully armed with the pilots’ kit draped across the weapons pylons.

Ground crew hurriedly pull off the awnings keeping the cockpit as cool as possible in the searing Afghan heat as soon as the shout goes up.

Harry stows his carbine, a shortened rifle and ammo alongside his seat and packs his body armour and webbing away before clambering inside.

He loads up the flight navigator box, pulls on his purple bandana and helmet, then adjusts his radio and hi-tech eyepiece.

While Harry receives his mission brief, the spinning rotors make an almighty roar as the downdraft churns the desert air.

Within five minutes they are away, climbing rapidly into the Afghan sky, into the unknown.

The prince said the role of helicopters and the co-pilot gunner has changed.

He said: “It used to be very much, front seat, you’re firing the whole time.”

During his tour Harry was given the nickname Ugly – the call sign of an Apache attack helicopter pilot.

He said: “I don’t know where Ugly came from but it is a pretty ugly beast, and I think it’s very cool. I’ve always wanted to be an Ugly.”

Harry was already familiar with the Apache having guided them towards enemy locations during his first deployment in Helmand.

He added: “Ever since I was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller back in 2007, whenever it was, speaking to the Uglies was always the number one.

“Things have changed now. We’ve got no Harriers any more, the Tornados are working elsewhere, so this is the choice platform as far as we’re concerned for the guys on the ground.”

 

Prince Harry
Prince Harry or just plain Captain Wales as he is known in the British Army, does a pre-flight check of his Apache Helicopter
PA
Prince Harry
Ready for action: Harry jumps aboard
PA

 

Like all members of his unit – 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps – Harry wears his “Go Ugly Early” badge with pride.

He has his fixed to his flying helmet, alongside one with “Harry Wales” stitched in yellow on to a black Stars and Stripes flag and another of the Blue-Red-Blue flash of the Household Division.

As well as accompanying the Chinooks and Black Hawks – who use the call signs “Tricky” and “Pedro” for casualty ­evacuation missions – the Ugly Apaches are sent to support Troops In Contact.

But while Harry said he was thrilled to carry out a range of dangerous missions from the air, he told how he missed the excitement of the front line.

And he revealed he despised being stuck at the Camp Bastion base.

The prince added: “My choice would have been back out on the ground with my regiment.

“It is a weird reality, being stuck in Bastion. For me, I hate it, being stuck here. I’d much rather be out with the lads in a PB (patrol base).

“The last job was, for me personally, better. Obviously lots of guys like the luxury and comforts of Bastion.

“But what’s weird is we’re stuck in Bastion and what’s going on out there is completely separate.

“But as soon as we’re outside the fence, we’re in the thick of it.

“Yes, OK, we’re supposedly safe, but anything can go wrong with this ­helicopter. It is a pain in the a*** being stuck in Bastion.

“Going into the ­cookhouse with hundreds of people, it’s frustrating. But then again, I get to fly this thing, so it comes with pros and cons.

“There is probably, hopefully a minority of people, that seem to think that I’ve got a free pass, I’m in this aircraft therefore I’m as safe as houses.

“But you can’t get a free pass in this job. You can’t get a free pass on anything in the army really.”

Harry denied he was the main target of the rebel assault on the base last year, in which two US marines and 14 rebels were killed.

 

 

 

The prince believe it could have been targeted at American forces, because of an incident in which copies of the Koran were allegedly ­desecrated.

He said: “I think it was about 15 guys who decided to attack the base.

“No one really knows yet but I think it was more towards the book and the Americans, but either way, this camp is in the middle of Afghanistan and we should expect to be attacked.”

While he loves his job in the Army, Harry admits it is a career path some thought he may not be able to follow owing to his lack of academic skills.

The prince revealed he was not the best at school and he could have hit the books a lot harder during his 18-month flying course.

But that did not stop him from qualifying top of his class as an Apache pilot. Harry said: “I don’t know, I’m one of those people that, during my flying course especially, I would be fine at flying.

“I probably should have done a lot more reading. And then every now and then a written test would come up, and I’d be absolutely useless and I’ve been like that from stage one of my youth.”

Harry was far more comfortable on the sports pitches than in the classroom.

He had to repeat his final year at his prep-school Ludgrove to gain a place at Eton College in 1998.

He said: “Exams were horrible, but anything like kicking a ball or playing PlayStation, or flying, I do find a bit easier than walking, sometimes.”

Harry began to show military ­potential at Eton, where he rose through the ranks as a cadet.

After taking a gap year, he gained a place at Sandhurst college, despite having not been to university.

The prince said being selected on the Apache course came as a surprise.

He added: “I think back, when it was all decided, it was never expected.

“Because being a junior captain, or a lieutenant and a non-grad, obviously not going to university, therefore the army presume you to be less intelligent, which is nice of them… probably true.”

Syrian conflict threatens to fracture Iraq

via CSMonitor:

Semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government are on a collision course as the Kurds increasingly side with the Syrian opposition and Baghdad stands by the Assad regime.

 

 

In September, as the Iraqi government reached one of its lowest points in relations with Turkey in years, Ankara welcomed Iraqi Kurdistan‘s President Massoud Barzani as a guest of honor at a convention hosted by the ruling Justice and Development Party.

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government(KRG) in northern Iraq and the federal government inBaghdad have not seen eye to eye for years, and the gap between the two is now widening, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. That’s been put in stark relief by the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has shifted the fortunes of Iraq’s Kurds.

A decade ago, Iraq was a Sunni Arab-dominated dictatorship that shared many problems with the Sunni Turks to the north. Both countries had restive ethnic-Kurdish separatist movements and uneasy relations with their Shiite and Persian neighbor, Iran.

Today, Iraq has a Shiite-dominated government that is close to Tehran, which is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime in Syria’s civil war. Turkey, still eager to prevent Kurdish separatist sentiments within its borders, now sees the Iraqi Kurds as a potential ally in opposition to the interests of Iran, Baghdad and Damascus.

The emerging sectarian alliances have prompted Baghdad and the KRG to throw themselves into opposing camps in the Syrian war, creating conflicting interests in the supposedly unified country.

As regional and Western diplomats point fingers at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for aiding embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – a charge which Baghdad vehemently denies – Iraqi Kurds are increasingly involved with the opposition, lured by the possibility that in a post-Assad Syria, Kurds there might achieve some degree of autonomy. That would allow the KRG to expand its foothold.

The KRG has hosted leaders of the Syrian opposition in its regional capital, Erbil, much to Baghdad’s dismay. It has also lent support to Kurds in northeastern Syria – Barzani publicly admitted in July that his government is providing them with military training. And now some of the Kurdish factions there are holding talks with the mostly Arab Syrian opposition to decide whether and how to join them in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, even though the relationship between the two camps has been strained by several bouts of fighting.

“The Syria crisis is forcing everyone around Syria to choose sides,” says Joost Hiltermann, who follows Iraq for the International Crisis Group (ICG). “Maliki is worried about the emergence of a post-Assad Sunni Islamist order in Syria… he finds that he has to support Assad by default. This puts him de facto in the Iranian camp and in conflict with Turkey.”

The Iraqi Kurds are at the opposite end of the equation from Maliki. Though Turkey treats its own Kurdish population poorly, the KRG’s deep mistrust of Baghdad has seen a tactical relationship developing between Ankara and Erbil and, by extension, the regional Sunni powers backing the Syrian uprising.

Although the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, Hiltermann says the KRG’s interest is not about religion, but an attempt to further nationalist goals. “They [Kurds] have long-term aspirations to independence, and today this means allying themselves with Turkey, which is encouraging them to take distance from Baghdad,” Hiltermann says.

Although Iraq’s constitution gives the federal government theoretical control of the country’s foreign policy, the KRG seldom defers to Baghdad on matters of international relations.

Iraq’s Kurds have enjoyed a high level of autonomy in northern Iraq since the 1990s, when the West backed a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds during an uprising against Saddam Hussein‘s regime. The KRG has its own diplomatic representatives in some key international capitals – WashingtonLondonParis, andMoscow among them – and more than 20 countries, including the US, have diplomatic missions in Erbil.

To say that Baghdad has a problem with the KRG’s overtures to the Syrian opposition and its backers is to put it mildly.

“They have completely gone their way and are sometimes on a collision line with the federal government [in Baghdad],” says Saad al-Muttalebi, a prominent figure in Maliki’s coalition. “Unfortunately the KRG behaves as if it’s an independent state and sets up its own international policies… without any consideration to the central government.”

Politicians in Baghdad are particularly unhappy with KRG’s closer ties to Turkey, which harbored exiled Sunni Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi after he fled Iraq earlier this year. Mr. Muttalebi, who used to serve as an adviser to Maliki, lashed out at Turkey for choosing “an unwise course of action” and “misusing its relations with Iraq.”

But Erbil sees Ankara as a critical counterbalancing factor against Baghdad, which the Kurdish government accuses of being increasingly heavy-handed.

“It is true that there is a federal broad-based coalition government in Baghdad, but day after day we see it becoming more autocratic,” Safin Dizayee, the official spokesperson for the KRG, told The Monitor at his office in Erbil.

“[Iraq’s] foreign policy is determined not by the institutions of the state, but by certain individuals within the state or a certain party,” Dizayee explains, referring indirectly to Maliki and his Shiite Dawa Party. “And when it comes to the policy of that party toward Syria, that might be actually questionable.”

Turkey’s annual trade with Iraq stood at around $11 billion in 2011, according to Turkish government’s figures, but Kurdish officials say about 70 percent of the trade occurs with the Kurdish region. The discovery of large oil reserves in Iraqi Kurdistan has only made the energy-thirsty Turkey more interested in developing closer ties with the KRG without much regard for Baghdad’s opposition. Erbil has been happy to go along.

But for a country with a long history of internal conflict and instability, the current regional shift may not pay off in the end.

“Baghdad and Erbil are taking decisions that they believe will enhance their regional and domestic positions,” says Ahmed Ali, a Middle East analyst at Georgetown University. But in a region of ever-shifting alliances, there is danger in charting “domestic policy while thinking that regional alliances are permanent and will help them fulfill their plans.”

REPORT: The US Is Openly Sending Heavy Weapons From Libya To Syrian Rebels

via Business Insider: 

The Obama administration has decided to launch a covert operation to send heavy weapons to Syrian rebels, Christina Lamb of The Sunday Times of London reports.

 

Diplomatic sources told the Sunday Times that the U.S. “bought weapons from the stockpiles of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.”

The heavy arms include mortars, rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles and the controversial anti-aircraft heat-seeking SA-7 missiles, which are integral to countering Bashar Al-Assad’s bombing campaign.

Many have suspected that the US was already involved in sending heavy arms.

The administration has said that the previously hidden CIA operation in Benghazi involved finding, repurchasing and destroying heavy weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, but in October we reported evidence indicating that U.S. agents — particularly murdered ambassador Chris Stevens — were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to jihadist Syrian rebels.

There have been several possible SA-7 spottings in Syria dating as far back as early summer 2012, and there are indications that at least some of Gaddafi’s 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles were shipped before now.

On Sept. 6 a Libyan ship carrying 400 tons of weapons for Syrian rebels docked in southern Turkey. The ship’s captain was “a Libyan from Benghazi” who worked for the new Libyan government. The man who organized that shipment, Tripoli Military Council head Abdelhakim Belhadj, worked directly with Stevens during the Libyan revolution.

Stevens’ last meeting on Sept. 11 was with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi “to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists.”

Last month The Wall Street Journal reported that the State Department presence in Benghazi “provided diplomatic cover” for the now-exposed CIA annex. It follows that the “weapons transfer” that Stevens negotiated may have involved sending heavy weapons recovered by the CIA to the revolutionaries in Syria.

The newest report comes days before the U.S. is expected to recognize the newest Syrian coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The State Department has also indicated it will soon name the opposition’s highly effective al-Nusra Front a “terrorist organization” for its ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Both of these stipulations — recognition of a unified opposition and creation of distance from extremists — are pivotal in order for the Obama administration to openly acknowledge supporting Syrian rebels with heavy weapons.
Manpad Missile Heatseeker

Here’s Why The West Will Almost Certainly Intervene In Syria

The U.S. is likely to formally label Syrian fighters with the Al Nusra Front a ‘terrorist’ organization, and effectively set back any possible victory over Bashar Al-Assad.

 

Unless, of course, the West intervenes directly.

The organization represents 7.5 to 9 percent of Syria’s rebel force, approximately 10,000 fighters, but more than that they represent a growing trend of radicalization in the ranks of Syria’s rebels.

The New York Times sums it up best:

But greater attention has been focused on al Qaeda involvement in the uprising since mid-July, when fighters professing allegiance to the terrorist organization appeared during the opposition takeover of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. In one video, five fighters declared their intention to create an Islamic state. (Mainline Qaeda ideology calls for a Pan-Islamic caliphate.)

The intent of the U.S. is ostensibly to replace Assad, who actively siphons weapons and support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, with a better option.

The longer the civil war goes on though, the more likely Assad’s eventual replacement will be a group of Jihadis, and so the less likely they are to support the will of the west.

The label of “terrorist organization” also represents a significant problem both legally and logistically. Ronald Reagan had to famously remove Iraq from the terrorist state list in order to give them aid in their fight against Iran.

The rebels are a fractious group though, and figuring out what weapons will end up in whose hands will prove entirely too difficult. The U.S. has a long history of arming the wrong people. It also has a recent history of doing as much.

Labeling Nusra as ‘terrorists’ is indicative of two developing courses of action: a dwindling of weapons coming from the U.S., and direct intervention from the West.

One way or another, the West’s foreign policy degrades with every day Assad keeps a grip on Damascus.

 

This US Marine Is Chained To Bed In A Mexican Prison Over A Simple Misunderstanding

via Business Insider: 

U.S. Marine Infantryman Jon Hammar survived Fallujah and Afghanistan only to find himself in chains, strapped to a bed in solitary confinement in a Mexican prison.

Jon Hammar

All over an innocent Aug. 13 trip to Mexico to surf and an absurd law regarding the length of the gun barrel on his antique shotgun.

The parents of Hammar reached out to Tim Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers when American diplomats seemed incapable of helping their son, and they received aggressive calls from the prison from people attempting to extort money.

“They said, ‘I have your son. We need money.’ I said, ‘I’m going to call the (U.S.) consulate.’ They said, ‘The consulate can’t help you.’ Then they put him on the phone. He said, ‘Mom, you need to pay them,’ ” Olivia Hammar told Johnson.

Hammar and a friend and fellow Marine Ian McDonough had bought a ’72 Winnebago and headed off to Mexico for a surfing trip. McDonough expressed worry about Hammar’s shotgun, a old trinket Hammar seemed insperable from, but Hammar seemed confident it wouldn’t get them in any trouble.

Olivia described the weapon her son had as a “glorified bb gun.”

“I told him that we probably shouldn’t take the shotgun with us,” McDonough said to McClatchy. “And he said, ‘No, I’m going to get it cleared with customs at the gate.’ So I said, ‘That’s fine. As long as it’s legit.’ ”

They were both arrested. Mexican officials said it was because shotgun barrels of that length, that is, shortened, are authorized only for the military.

McDonough was later released, due in part to his living off and on in Argentina, and he walked back home across the border. Hammar has been jailed ever since, and family and Marine friends are incensed he hasn’t yet been released. Though his local congressmen Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has taken up his cause, saying, “I will do my best to help.”

Frustrated that even that won’t be enough there is now a White House petition posted to “Help Bring Hammar Home” which so far has more than 3,400 signatures.

The Obama administration, however, has released no statements regarding the fate of Jon Hammar.

 

Iran claims US drone capture; Navy denies loss

via Mercury News:

 

TEHRAN, Iran—Iran claimed Tuesday it had taken another prize in a growing showdown with Washington over drone surveillance, displaying a purported U.S. unmanned aircraft it said was captured intact. The U.S. Navy, however, said none of its drones in the region was missing.

The conflicting accounts could put pressure on both sides for more details on U.S. reconnaissance and Iranian counter-measures.

They also point to other questions, including how Iran could manage to snatch the Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone without noticeable damage to its light-weight, carbon-fiber body or whether the aircraft could be from another Gulf country that deploys it.

There is even the possibility the drone is authentic but was plucked from the sea after a past crash and unveiled for maximum effect amid escalating tensions over U.S. reconnaissance missions—including a Predator drone coming under fire from Iranian warplanes last month.

But unlike the larger Predator, which can carry weapons and sophisticated surveillance systems, the much smaller ScanEagle collects mostly photographic and video images using equipment with little intelligence value, experts said. One called the craft a “large seagull” with cameras.

Monitoring of Gulf air and sea traffic is considered of high importance for the U.S. military. Iran has taken steps to boost its naval and drone capabilities, unsettling Washington’s Gulf Arab allies. Iran also has threatened in the past to try

to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz—the route for one-fifth of the world’s oil—in retaliation for Western sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

“We had warned American officials not to violate our airspace. We had formally protested such actions and had announced that we protect our borders,” state TV quoted Foreign Minister Ali Abkar Salehi as saying.

Washington denies it has crossed into Iranian airspace, but Iran’s definition of its jurisdiction could be far broader. State-run Press TV said any surveillance of Iran was considered “a violation of territory.”

Asked about Iran’s assertion that it had captured a U.S. drone, White House press secretary Jay Carney said “we have no evidence that the Iranian claims are true.”

Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said there are no Navy drones missing in the Middle East.

“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” said Salata. “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized waters and airspace.”

He noted that some ScanEagles operated by the Navy “have been lost into the water” over the years, but there is no “record of that occurring most recently.”

Other countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, also have ScanEagle drones in their fleets. It’s used by other militaries, but not among Iran’s close allies.

The Iranian announcement did not give details on the time or location of the claimed drone capture.

It’s certain, however, to be portrayed by Tehran as another bold challenge to U.S. reconnaissance efforts in the region.

Last month, the Pentagon said a drone came under Iranian fire in the Gulf but was not harmed. A year ago, Iran managed to bring down an unmanned CIA spy drone possibly coming from Afghanistan.

Iran claimed it captured the drone after it entered Iranian airspace. A report on state TV quoted the navy chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying the Iranian forces caught the “intruding” drone.

“The U.S. drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard’s navy air defense unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace,” Fadavi said. “Such drones usually take off from large warships.”

Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel, showed two Guard commanders examining what appeared to be a ScanEagle drone with no visible damage or military markings on its gray fuselage or wings.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, said it was the captured drone, a propeller-driven craft with a 10-foot (three-meter) wingspan that’s sent aloft from a pneumatic launcher from even a small vessel—undermining Iranian claims that it needs a warship to be deployed.

The drone, built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc., typically would have no high-value intelligence and is used mostly for aerial photographs and video.

“With a ScanEagle, you just throw it off your boat to have a look over the horizon. It’s not, like, a major system,” said aviation expert Paul E. Eden. “In military chest-beating terms, the U.S. is likely to just laugh at the Iranians for making so much of having captured one.”

Eden also expressed skepticism that the ScanEagle could have been shot down, calling it akin to a “large seagull” because it’s slow and very small, making it a tricky target.

“If you did hit it with any anti-aircraft weapons, there wouldn’t be much left,” said Huw Williams, a drone expert at Jane’s International Defense Review.

In the Iranian TV footage, the two men then point to a huge map of the Persian Gulf in the background, showing the drone’s alleged path of entry into Iranian airspace. “We shall trample on the U.S.,” was printed over the map in Farsi and English next to the Guard’s emblem.

If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and U.S. drones in the past two years.

Last month, Iran claimed that a U.S. drone had violated its airspace. The Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft came under fire—at least twice but was not hit—and that the Predator was over international waters.

The Nov. 1 shooting in the Gulf was unprecedented, and further escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, which is under international sanctions over its suspect nuclear program. Tehran denies it’s pursuing a nuclear weapon and insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.

In late 2011, Iran claimed it brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which is equipped with stealth technology, was captured almost intact. Tehran later said it recovered data from the drone.

In the case of the Sentinel, after initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed it had been monitoring Iran’s military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

Iran meanwhile, has claimed advancements in drone technology.

In November, Iranian media reported that the country had produced a domestically made drone capable of hovering. Earlier, Iran said it obtained images of sensitive Israeli bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and downed by Israel.

Iran also claimed other drones made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected the Iranian assertions.

Internet down across Syria for second day

via Telegraph: 

 

Phone and internet networks were down across most of Syria for a second straight day on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

 

Syria: rebels fight to unite opposition-held areas before 'final push' for Damascus

Rami Abdel Rahman, Observatory director, said in some areas it was still possible to access the internet “but with great difficulty”.

“It is also very difficult to reach people by phone. But we have received reports that it is possible to communicate between certain regions via fixed telephone lines,” he added.

The official news agency SANA had still not resumed transmission Friday after its feed was cut on Thursday at midday. Its website was also inaccessible.

On Thursday afternoon, when communications were first cut in Syria, activists accused the regime of preparing a “massacre” while the authorities explained this interruption as “maintenance”.

The United States on Thursday accused the Syrian regime of cutting off internet and telecommunications links in the war-torn country, branding the move a sign of desperation.

Amnesty International said on Twitter that reports of an internet shutdown were “very disturbing”.

Meanwhile delegates from more than 60 countries agreed in Tokyo to ramp up pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime and urged the international community to unite to force change in Syria.

The “Friends of Syria” condemned the “incessant killings, bombings of residential areas” and the “gross violation of human rights” that have taken place since Assad’s forces moved to crush an uprising.

At a meeting in the Japanese capital, the group’s fifth since its inception, they called for a full oil embargo on Syria, a move aimed at cutting off a rich source of currency for the regime.

In a statement released after the meeting, the group, which includes Western and Arab countries, called on “all members of the international community, especially members of the United Nations Security Council, to take swift, responsible and resolute action”.

Two of the five permanent members of the Security Council – China and Russia – have blocked action.

The statement welcomed the formation of the National Coalition, a newly-unified opposition group that has been recognised by Britain, France and Spain as the legitimate representatives of Syria.

It also called for ramping up of sanctions to tighten the noose around the regime, insisting that any ill effects suffered by the populace were the fault of the government in Damascus.

“The group called on the international financial and business communities to diligently comply with ongoing and forthcoming measures against the Syrian regime,” it said.

“The group reiterated its call on all states to impose an embargo on Syrian petroleum products and a ban on the provision of insurance and reinsurance for shipments of Syrian petroleum products.”

Presently, the United States has banned the import of Syrian oil and gas, but the EU has not.

On Thursday Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Washington was weighing what further help it could give the Syrian opposition rebels.

“We are going to carefully consider what more we can do,” Clinton told a Washington forum, saying the United States was constantly evaluating the situation and adding: “I’m sure we will do more in the weeks ahead.”

But she stopped short of saying whether the US would recognise the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

Privately, US officials have said the Obama administration would likely go ahead and recognise the group at some point.

“We hope the National Coalition … will play a further role as an entity that represents a wider range of the Syrian society, with a common objective of having all the Syrians enjoy peace and prosperity in the new Syria,” Gemba said on Friday.

Along with sanctions on the Assad regime, “providing assistance to refugees and internally displaced people” is essential, said Gemba, adding the world also had to “look ahead to a post-Assad” Syria.

Confirmed: US planned to nuke the moon

via RT:

A B53 bomb is seen in this handout taken October 19, 2011 and released October 20, 2011.(Reuters / Handout)

In a secret project recently discovered, the United States planned to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb in the 1950s as a display of the country’s strength during the Cold War space race.

The secret project, called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights”, as well as “Project A119” was never carried out but initially intended to intimidate the Soviet Union after their launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, which demonstrated their technological power, the Daily Mail reports.

The sight of a magnificent nuclear flash from Earth was meant to terrify the Soviet Union and boost US confidence, physicist Leonard Reiffel, 85, told the Associated Press. The nuclear device would have been launched from a missile from an unknown location. It would have ignited upon impact with the moon, causing a massive explosion that was visible from Earth.

The detonation would have been the result of an atom bomb, since a hydrogen bomb was too heavy for a missile to carry the 238,000 miles to the moon.

Astronomer Carl Sagan was responsible for some of the calculations that could cause the nuclear detonation. Sagan, who later became a famous author of popular science, was a young graduate student at the time. He worked as a NASA advisor from the 1950s onward and died in 1996.

One of Sagan’s biographers claims he may have committed a security breach by revealing the classified project in 1959 in his application for an academic fellowship. Reiffel, who once served as deputy director at NASA and was responsible for the nuclear research at the Armour Research Foundation in 1958, confirmed this claim.

In his interview with AP, which took place in the year 2000, Reiffel said the nuclear detonation could have occurred by 1959, which is when the US Air Force deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles. The project documents were kept secret for nearly 45 years and the US government has never formally confirmed its involvement in the study.

But in the end, the mission was abandoned due to safety concerns about the radioactive material that would contaminate space. The scientists were also worried about the bomb detonating prematurely, thereby endangering the people on Earth.

Rather than blow up the moon, the US continued the space race, sending its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit on Jan. 31, 1958. The project was officially canceled by the Air Force in Jan. 1959, and the US instead focused on sending a man to the moon.

Gaza crowds surge at Israel border fence, 1 dead

via Philly:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops fired on Gazans surging toward Israel’s border fence Friday, killing one person but leaving intact the fragile two-day-old cease-fire between Hamas and the Jewish state.

The truce, which calls for an end to Gaza rocket fire on Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, came after eight days of cross-border fighting, the bloodiest between Israel and Hamas in four years.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called the situation in Gaza “extremely fragile” and said Israel’s cease-fire violations and other illegal actions risk undermining the calm that was just restored.

Hundreds of Palestinians approached the border fence Friday in several locations in southern Gaza, testing expectations Israel would no longer enforce a 300-meter-wide (300-yard-wide) no-go zone on the Palestinian side of the fence that was meant to prevent infiltrations into Israel. In the past, Israeli soldiers routinely opened fire on those who crossed into the zone.

In one incident captured by Associated Press video, several dozen Palestinians, most of them young men, approached the fence, coming close to a group of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side.

Some Palestinians briefly talked to the soldiers, while others appeared to be taunting them with chants of “God is Great” and “Morsi, Morsi,” in praise of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, whose mediation led to the truce.

At one point, a soldier shouted in Hebrew, “Go there, before I shoot you,” and pointed away from the fence, toward Gaza. The soldier then dropped to one knee, assuming a firing position. Eventually, a burst of automatic fire was heard, but it was not clear whether any of the casualties were from this incident.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said a 20-year-old man was killed and 19 people were wounded by Israeli fire near the border.

Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said Israeli forces fatally shot Anwar Abdulhadi Qudaih, 21, in the head and injured at least 19 other Palestinian civilians in a border area east of Khan Younis.

During the incidents, Hamas security tried to defuse the situation and keep the crowds away from the fence.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official at the ongoing negotiations in Cairo, told The Associated Press that the violence would have no effect on the ceasefire.

The crowds were mainly made up of young men but also included farmers hoping to once again farm lands in the buffer zone. Speaking by phone from the buffer zone, 19-year-old Ali Abu Taimah said he and his father were checking three acres of family land that have been fallow for several years.

“When we go to our land, we are telling the occupation (Israel) that we are not afraid at all,” he said.

Israel’s military said roughly 300 Palestinians approached the security fence at different points, tried to damage it and cross into Israel. Soldiers fired warning shots in the air, but after the Palestinians refused to move back, troops fired at their legs, the military said. A Palestinian infiltrated into Israel during the unrest, but was returned to Gaza, it said.

The truce allowed both Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step back from the brink of a full-fledged war. Over eight days, Israel’s aircraft carried out some 1,500 strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Gaza fighters fired roughly the same number of rockets at Israel.

The fighting killed 166 Palestinians, including scores of civilians, and six Israelis. Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, said more than 1,230 Palestinians were injured, predominantly women and children.

In Cairo, Egypt is hosting separate talks with Israeli and Hamas envoys on the next phase of the cease-fire , a new border deal for blockaded Gaza. Hamas demands an end to border restrictions, while Israel insists Hamas halt weapons smuggling to Gaza.

Mansour also accused Israel of intensifying its use of “excessive and lethal force” against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent days and of arresting at least 230 Palestinian civilians since the Gaza fighting began, including several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who were detained at dawn Friday.

The Palestinian U.N. observer called on the Security Council and the international community “to remain vigilant in their demands for a complete cessation of hostilities and for compliance by Israel.”

A poll Friday showed about half of Israelis thinks their government should have continued its Gaza offensive.

The independent Maagar Mohot poll showed 49 percent of respondents felt Israel should have kept pursuing squads that fire rockets into Israel, 31 percent supported the decision to stop and 20 percent had no opinion. Twenty-nine percent thought Israel should have sent ground troops into Gaza. The poll of 503 respondents had an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

The same survey showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party and electoral partner Israel Beiteinu losing some support, but his hard-line bloc was still favored to form the next government after Jan. 22 elections.

 

Senators call for special committee to probe Libya, as Petraeus agrees to testify

via Fox News:

 

On the heels of David Petraeus agreeing to testify on the Libya terror attack, Republican senators on Wednesday stepped up their call to empanel a “select committee” to investigate the tragedy — as they raised concern that the administration’s internal review would fall short.

“Let me be clear: there is no credibility among most of us concerning the administration and the numerous controversies and contradictions that have been involved in their handling of this issue,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, at a lengthy news conference on Capitol Hill.

McCain was joined by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in calling for a temporary Senate committee established specifically to investigate Libya. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid later said he would not support their proposal.

The call for what would effectively be a new investigation comes as lawmakers continue to pry into the administration’s narrative on what happened before, during and after the attack that killed four Americans. In a victory for lawmakers — at least those who will hear from him — Petraeus volunteered to speak to the House and Senate intelligence committees perhaps as early as this week on Libya.

Petraeus had originally been scheduled to testify this Thursday on the burgeoning controversy over the deadly Sept. 11 attack. That appearance was scuttled, though, after the director abruptly resigned over an extramarital affair.

The resignation has since expanded into a sprawling scandal that now includes allegations that Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, exchanged “inappropriate” and sexually charged emails with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite linked to the Petraeus case. The rapid developments in the case have all but obscured what until last week was an intense debate on Capitol Hill and beyond over the Benghazi terror attack.

After Petraeus’ resignation, lawmakers complained that the scandal was no reason they shouldn’t hear from the man at the helm of the CIA when CIA operatives came under attack alongside State Department employees in Benghazi last month.

The logistics of Petraeus’ appearance are still being worked out. But a source close to Petraeus said the former four-star general has contacted the CIA, as well as committees in both the House and Senate, to offer his testimony as the former CIA director.

Fox News has learned he was invited to speak off-site to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday about his Libya report.
The House side is still being worked out.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack, which the administration initially blamed on a “spontaneous” mob reacting to protests over an anti-Islam film. Officials later labeled the attack terrorism.

While Petraeus prepares to give his side, lawmakers have begun to openly question when Petraeus first knew about the investigation that uncovered his affair — and whether it impacted his statements to Congress on Sept. 14 about the Libya terror attack.

Petraeus briefed lawmakers that day that the attack was akin to a flash mob, and some top lawmakers noted to Fox News he seemed “wedded” to the administration’s narrative that it was a demonstration spun out of control. The briefing appeared to conflict with one from the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center a day earlier in which officials said the intelligence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News he now questions whether Petraeus’ statements — which were in conflict with both the FBI briefing and available raw intelligence — were in any way impacted by the knowledge the FBI was investigating his affair with Broadwell.

King questioned whether the investigation “consciously or subconsciously” affected his statements to Congress.

“It’s impossible to believe that he thought he was giving … honest testimony,” King said Wednesday.