Monday, July 28, 2008

Syria envoy to U.S.: Israel has chance for peace with all Arabs

Syria envoy to U.S.: Israel has chance for peace with all Arabs July 28, 2008: Syria is interested in securing a peace agreement with Israel that would see a normalization of ties and end to the longstanding state of war between the two countries, Damascus' envoy to the U.S. has said. "The negotiations are a historic opportunity for Israel to make peace, not just with Syria and Lebanon, but with the whole Arab world," Ambassador Imad Moustapha said, according to an interview broadcast on Army Radio on Monday. Moustapha, an associate of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said that Israel must understand that such a peace can not be achieved unless it withdraws from the disputed Golan Heights, which it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War. "Israel must accept Syria's legitimate demand and understand that it will not achieve peace on the northern border as long as it is holding the Golan Heights," Moustapha was quoted as saying. "We offer the big thing ? let's sit together, make peace and finish once and for all this state of war. What could be better than that?" Moustapha was speaking in an interview with the Pro-Israel Americans for Peace Now, a U.S.-affiliate of the Peace Now Movement. The ambassador is not privy to the negotiations between Syria and Israel, but sources in Jerusalem said his closeness with Assad lends significance to his declarations. In response to the statements, Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer called on Israel to complete negotiations with Syria while the current Knesset is still in office. "The government of Israel has an obligation not to miss this chance for peace with Israel, and to present a full peace agreement to the public," Oppenheimer told Army Radio.

Emirates Airline receives first A380

Emirates Airline receives first A380 July 28, 2008: The Dubai-based Emirates Airline Monday received its first Airbus A380 at the European aircraft manufacturer's Jurgen Thomas A380 Delivery Center in Hamburg, Germany. The delivery expands the size of Emirates Airline's fleet to 118, including 108 passenger aircraft and 10 freighters.

Pakistan receives four F-16 fighter jets

Pakistan receives four F-16 fighter jets
Islamabad, July 28, 2008: Pakistan Monday received another batch of four F-16 fighter jets from the US, marking the completion of a package of US delivery since 2005. Lt Gen Martin E Dempsey, acting commander of the US Central Command, handed over the four F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed at the Mushaf airbase in Pakistan's Punjab province. The batch of aircraft will significantly augment its combat capability in defending the aerial frontiers of Pakistan, Geo TV channel quoted Ahmed as saying. The handover ceremony also marks the completion of the delivery of 14 F-16 aircraft the US agreed to provide Pakistan under the Foreign Military Sales programme, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. The first two F-16s were delivered in December 2005, two more in July 2007, two in February 2008 and four in June 2008, the APP added. Pakistan received the fighter jets just days after the US government proposed shifting $230 million from its counter-terrorism aid package to Pakistan to help the country upgrade its aging F-16 fighter jets.

India, Pakistan in Kashmir clash

India, Pakistan in Kashmir clash July 28, 2008: India says that the Pakistani troops have now retreated. An Indian soldier has been killed by Pakistani troops who crossed the Line of Control dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir, India says. A spokesman for the Indian army, Anil Kumar Mathur, told the BBC that 10 to 12 Pakistani soldiers had entered Indian territory. He said that shots were exchanged after an argument, and that firing had continued until Monday evening. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir. Lt Col Mathur said that the Pakistani troops were protesting over an Indian post set up on the Line of Control (LoC) in Nowgam sector. He said that one Indian soldier was wounded before the Pakistani soldiers retreated to their side of the LoC, firing at Indian soldiers as they did so. Indian troops returned fire and clashes are reported to be continuing. Pakistan's army spokesman said he had no information on the clash. It is not yet clear whether any Pakistani troops were killed or injured. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar - the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir - says that that two sides have on several occasions accused each other of violating the ceasefire along the LoC since it was declared in November 2003. Our correspondent says that despite the alleged violations, the ceasefire has so far held after months of relative peace. Bus blast But the Kashmir Valley has seen a number of attacks in recent weeks. Earlier this month, police said that at least nine Indian soldiers were killed in an explosion triggered by suspected militants. More than 20 others were hurt in that attack, which happened when a bus carrying troops about to go on leave was caught in the blast in the Narbal area, close to Srinagar. The Hizbul Mujahideen militant group called the BBC office in Srinagar to claim responsibility for the bus blast. Last week, police said that at least five people were killed in another attack blamed on militants - either caused by a bomb or a hand grenade. Correspondents say that firing incidents across the LoC are rare, but allegations of ceasefire breaches underline how fragile the peace is. In May, the Indian army said there had been "unprovoked" firing on two ocassions from Pakistani troops, killing an Indian soldier. The latest violence comes after talks between senior officials from India and Pakistan to step up confidence-building measures in divided Kashmir. The two countries both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.

Sri Lanka: Fierce artillery duels kill 22

Fierce artillery duels kill 22 in Sri Lanka July 28, 2008 - COLOMBO: Artillery duels in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north have killed 18 Tamil Tiger rebels and four soldiers, the defence ministry said on Monday. It said 10 soldiers were also injured in the fighting, which took place on Sunday in the Weli Oya and Vavuniya regions. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) did not comment on the fighting, but said one civilian was killed on Sunday when troops launched artillery attacks in the Mannar area along the northwest coast. Sunday’s fighting raises the number of rebels killed by government troops since January to 5,332, while 468 soldiers have died in combat in the same period, according to a tally of defence ministry figures. However, the ministry blocks access for journalists to visit frontlines, making it difficult to independently verify casualty claims.

Gilani asks US not to make one-sided operation in Pakistan

Gilani asks US not to make one-sided operation in Pakistan
July 28, 2008 - WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Reza Gilani has demanded from the United States not to make any one-sided operation against the militants in Pakistan.In an interview to an American television, the prime minister said that he told the US President George Bush in a meeting that one-sided operation should not be made.He said that if there is an American hand behind the attacks then it would be an act against the sovereignty of Pakistan.Syed Yousuf Reza Gilani said that Pakistan is taking every possible action against the terrorists and the US attack on Pakistani land is clearly an act against the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Behind Afghanistan lies Pakistan

Behind Afghanistan lies Pakistan Mon July 28, 2008: Like its towering mountains, Afghanistan looms as a serious security threat, with Taliban attacks on US and NATO forces there rising precipitously. But the road to improvement starts in Pakistan, and the route is as winding as the Khyber Pass highway that connects the two countries.
Al Qaeda has regrouped in Pakistan's lawless tribal region on the border, reaching pre-9/11 strength. Taliban militants also find safe haven in this remote region and cross regularly into Afghanistan. This growing hornets' nest poses a risk not only to Afghanistan and NATO forces, but to the world as a whole. Islamist terrorists in the border area are hostile to the newly elected secular government in Pakistan. Remember that Pakistan has the world's second-largest Muslim population and is equipped with nuclear weapons. Thankfully, Washington is starting to pay more attention to this part of the world. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Afghanistan over the weekend, and last week, Republican candidate John McCain elevated the region's importance by speaking extensively about it. Both recognize the critical role that Pakistan plays. Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus is talking with Pakistani officials about how to better wage a counterinsurgency in the tribal areas. And last week, the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pushed a bipartisan bill that provides a far more balanced US approach to Pakistan. The bill, sponsored by Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, would more than triple development aid to Pakistan over the next five years and aim to extend it for another five. It would put the American contribution to roads, secular schooling, and clinics ahead of military aid. America has poured more than $7 billion into military aid to Pakistan over the past six years, with little result. In the bill, the military aid is contingent on Pakistan making a concerted effort to put down the terrorist groups. By emphasizing development aid that won't dry up at the next US dispute with Pakistan, the senators hope to rebuild Pakistani trust – and build up a poor region, helping to drive out extremist Islam. Many Pakistanis resent America's support for the military rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was spurned in February elections. They blame the US for the growing strength of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, saying it failed to finish them off at Tora Bora in 2001 and then got distracted in Iraq. Passing the bill can help reverse this attitude, much as US aid for Pakistanis in the 2005 earthquake created a surge of goodwill toward America. But the legislation, which has support from the White House, must be viewed as just one rounding of the bend on the way to a reduced terrorist threat. Other challenges include a Pakistani government in disarray; a triangle of suspicion involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India; and Pakistani security forces ill-suited to counterinsurgency. All of these factors contribute to Pakistan's intermittent and ineffective dealings with the terrorist infestation. The US is making a more serious effort with Pakistan. A week from today, Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, is to meet with President Bush. Mr. Gillani should acknowledge this US effort and show that he, too, is more serious about the border region.

Terrorism battleground shifts to Afghanistan

Terrorism battleground shifts to Afghanistan
July 28, 2008: Afghanistan is larger than Iraq in terms of both size and population. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, guests of the Taliban, plotted the Sept. 11 attacks in Afghanistan. And America went to war there in October 2001, with the international community's blessing, to capture or kill those responsible for the attacks. Yet today there are only about 36,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, less than one-third the number stationed in Iraq. The costs of our lack of attention have been high of late. In June, a Taliban prison raid freed 1,000 inmates in Kandahar, 400 of whom were Taliban. On July 13, Taliban forces nearly overran a U.S.-Afghan outpost in the Weygal Valley near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, killing nine and wounding 15 American soldiers. More U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan (52) than in Iraq (43) since May. Suicide bombings increased by 40 percent during the first half of 2008 as compared to 2007. Afghanistan is producing opium -- used to make heroin -- at record levels, supplying 92 percent of the world's total. Narco-trafficking funds the Taliban's insurgency and undermines the Karzai government, which is weak and rife with corruption. Our NATO allies' contributions have been disappointing, with national restrictions on the use of their troops precluding participation in the more dangerous, but most crucial, missions. The provisional reconstruction teams (PRTs), which should be relying on civilian expertise and leadership, are increasingly dependent on military staffing. There is some good news. Most Afghanis want international forces to stay. The international community has pledged $21 billion to reconstruction. Educational opportunities for both boys and girls have expanded greatly. Road construction and other infrastructure projects are underway. The elected parliament is functioning better, access to health care has improved dramatically, and refugees are returning home. But we still need a clear goal and should dedicate the necessary resources to achieving it. We should not aim for a pure democracy in the near future, but rather a government that is strong enough to: defend its borders, ensure internal security, deny a safe haven to terrorists, and protect fundamental human rights. Expanding our goals beyond this should be avoided. Even achieving these modest goals will require additional combat brigades on the ground, as well as a stronger commitment to training a 52,000-soldier Afghan army. The recent increased reliance on air power and subsequent civilian casualties is undermining our efforts to win hearts and minds. The U.S. and its allies should work with the Afghan government to appoint a super envoy to assist President Karzai's efforts to fight corruption and deliver basic services to the people. On the counter-narcotics front, poppy eradication has failed to hamper opium harvests. Ultimately, we must curb demand for heroin, the fundamental driver of Afghanistan's drug economy. The central front in our war against terrorism is now in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is intolerable and dangerous that, almost seven years after 9/11, those responsible for the attacks remain at large in this region, destabilizing Afghanistan and planning future strikes on the West. Our recent Pakistan policy has not led to the disruption of such plotting, all the while alienating the Pakistanis. Pakistan's new civilian government needs to get on track. We have common enemies in al-Qaida and the Taliban. We should support democracy and economic growth, especially in the tribal regions, but America cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan. If we have accurate intelligence about al-Qaida or Taliban leaders we must act against them, if Pakistan does not. Afghanistan is a poor, multi-ethnic, sectarian, fractious country, and it will remain so for years to come. Our commitment to its government and people should be for the long haul, with realistic expectations.

Dogs of War: Life without Blackwater?

Dogs of War: Life without Blackwater? Washington (UPI) Jul 28, 2008: For a moment there it looked like we might not have Blackwater to kick around anymore. The company's contract with the U.S. State Department has been at the center of a lot of unflattering media attention since a Baghdad shooting incident last year in which local authorities say innocent civilians and Iraqi police personnel were fired on and killed. I thought these armed personnel protection details might become an artifact of history when I read the Associated Press story this week reporting that Blackwater Worldwide planned a shift away from the security contracting business and to focus on training, aviation and logistics. But, as it turns out, I was wrong. Blackwater is not getting out of the security business. Most of the media focused on the news flash that AP sent out and did not carefully read the full story that followed. Blackwater Worldwide spokeswoman Ann Tyrell said in a telephone interview that company President Gary Jackson was responding to questions about where he saw the future of the private market. To the surprise of nobody who is even casually familiar with the private military contracting industry, he and company owner Erik Prince told the AP the use of security contractors was a small part of the market and not one that they would seek to focus on. It has long been a myth, albeit a popular one, that the majority of private military contractors are gun shooters. In fact, the reverse is true, as has been pointed out, largely in vain, by trade groups such as the Professional Services Council and the International Peace Operations Association. According to estimates from the IPOA, the total value of what it calls the global peace and stability operations industry is about $20 billion for all companies providing services in the field. Of that number, private security contractors make up only about 5 percent to 10 percent, or a maximum of $2 billion annually. The normal peacetime number would be closer to 5 percent for PSCs, but Iraq has driven it up. To understand the difference, one has only to follow the money. For example, compare two major contracts in Iraq, the World Wide Personal Protective Services and the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. The current WPPS contract, the second, was awarded in July 2005. The State Department utilizes it as an umbrella contract under which it issues task orders to the three contracting companies -- Blackwater USA, DynCorp and Triple Canopy. The bulk of the personnel come from Blackwater. The contract has a ceiling of $1.2 billion per contractor over five years -- one base year and four option years. That works out to $240 million per contractor per year. LOGCAP, an Army program first established in 1985, is an initiative for the use of civilian contractors in wartime and other contingencies. It includes all pre-planned logistics and engineering/construction-oriented contingency contracts. It does everything from fixing trucks to warehousing ammunition to doing the laundry, running mess halls and building whole bases abroad. When the Army announced the awarding of the fourth and latest LOGCAP contract back in April to DynCorp International LLC; Fluor Intercontinental Inc.; and Kellogg, Brown and Root Services, the total annual maximum value was $15 billion and the lifetime maximum value was $150 billion. That works out to $5 billion per contractor per year. You don't need a Ph.D. to figure out which is the market segment with the greatest profit-making opportunities. You can see similar trends at work in terms of actual numbers of contractors. The Los Angeles Times reported in July 2007 that the number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq exceeded that of American combat troops. More than 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis, were working in Iraq under U.S. contracts. The numbers include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about 118,000 Iraqis. That number, by the way, would still be bigger than U.S. military forces, even after the United States had increased the number of forces during its 2007 "surge." However, private security contractors were not fully counted in the survey, so the total contractor number was even larger. By comparison, at the end of December 2007, the U.S. Central Command reported there were approximately 6,467 Defense Department-funded armed PSCs in Iraq. Of that number, 830 were U.S. citizens, 7,590 were third-country nationals, and 1,532 were local/host country nationals. This number, of course, was hardly the total PSC number, as it leaves out those working for the State Department and for the private companies doing reconstruction work. Still, it illustrates the point that the number of American PSCs is a small proportion of the total. Thus, when Gary Jackson said Blackwater's security business is down to about 30 percent of Blackwater revenue now and it will go much lower, he was just acknowledging the obvious: that security work is a very small share of the overall private military market. But there is one point worth considering. Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince told the AP, "The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk." Time and history will deliver the ultimate verdict on Blackwater. And I would be the last one to argue that everything they have done has been done well, or even right. But it is also true that it has been made into a scapegoat and whipping boy for all those who are uneasy with the concept of outsourcing and privatization. But the reality is that private contractors are on America's battlefields because the government, elected by the people, wants them there. It is not difficult to understand why. Given the downsizing the U.S. armed forces underwent since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the military turned to the private sector for help. If people don't want to use private contractors, the choices are simple: Scale back U.S. commitments or enlarge the military.

Russia celebrates Navy Day

Russia celebrates Navy Day July 28, 2008: Naval parades and spectacular performances were held at the main naval bases of the Black Sea, Northern, Baltic and Pacific Fleets on July 27 to mark Russia’s Navy Day.

Pakistan PM in US for Bush talks

Pakistan PM in US for Bush talks July 28, 2008: This is Mr Gilani's first visit to US after taking over as prime minister. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, is in Washington preparing for talks with President Bush and senior officials. The trip comes amid intensifying US pressure on Pakistan to move against Taleban and al-Qaeda militants. This is Mr Gilani's first visit to the United States since he took power after February's elections. He is also expected to meet the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and John McCain. Pakistan is a strategic ally of the United States in its war against terror. US and Afghan officials say Taleban and al-Qaeda militants have established their strongholds on Pakistan's western border from where they carry out attacks into Afghanistan. Strategic ally "It is in the interest of Pakistan to curb extremism and terrorism," Mr Gilani told reporters before leaving for the US. Mr Gilani can expect to hear some tough words in Washington, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington. President Bush will press him on the need to do more to fight the militants in the tribal areas near the Afghan border when he meets him on Monday, our correspondent says. Mr Gilani is due to spend three days in the US. The Pakistani prime minister is also scheduled to meet senior US officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates. In recent months the US and its allies have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in military and other forms of assistance to help Pakistan's new government tackle militancy in border areas. Earlier this month, Mr Gates said he was considering sending additional troops to Afghanistan to counter the flow of insurgents from Pakistan. Washington has also said it is concerned about peace deals that Islamabad has been signing with some of the radical groups in its western tribal-dominated areas. Warning The Pakistani government says the peace deals will bring stability to the volatile regions. But Washington argues this gives the militants too much room to manoeuvre and increases the threat to Nato troops across the border. US military commanders have warned that if there is ever another attack against the US, it will be planned in those areas. But there will be statements of support - and possibly action - to back them as the US seems keen to encourage the fragile transition from military to civilian rule in Islamabad, our correspondent says. Last week, President Bush announced that he wanted to allow Pakistan to upgrade its F-16 fighter jets by using two-thirds of the annual counter-terrorism aid it gets from the US. But the US Congress has criticised the move, saying the jets are not essential to the fight against the militants in the tribal areas.

Adductors of Hercules crew in Nigeria make no demands - embassy

Adductors of Hercules crew in Nigeria make no demands - embassy MOSCOW, July 27, 2008 - Nigrian gunmen who seized five sailors from the ship Hercules, including two Russians, have not advanced any demands, the Russian embassy in Lagos said on Sunday. The Hercules vessel, which was engaged in the work of oil platforms of Italy's Saipem, was attacked by the Nigerian militants on July 24. The gunmen later released the vessel along with seven crewmembers, and retained five men. "According to our data, the attack was carried out by militants of the so-called Liberation Army. So far, they have made no demands and there is no information about the location of the hostages," the embassy said. According to the embassy, there are also two Ukrainians and one Pole among the men seized by the militants.