Libya Crisis: Warplane Strikes At Zintan Airport

Libya-AirportA war plane has launched air strikes on a western  town in Libya allied with the internationally recognized government on Tuesday, in what officials described as an attack by the rival government controlling Tripoli.

Libya is increasingly divided, with the Prime Minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni’s recognised government, and his allies locked in a conflict with a rival faction that took over the capital and established its own self-declared government.

“The military jet attacked, hitting the airport in the western town of Zintan in the mountains near the Tunisian border,” Airport official from Zintan said, adding that limited damage was caused near the runway while there were no casualties.

But an air strike by the rival Tripoli government would be an escalation of its war with Thinni’s forces which had been operating out of the east.

Zintan airport said in a statement that “A warplane conducted an air strike on the airport of Zintan while passengers were about to depart. “Two flights were canceled for security.”

Defense officials from Thinni’s government accused the Tripoli faction of carrying out the attack.

There was no immediate response from the Tripoli authorities.

Four years after the NATO-backed war toppled Gaddafi, Western governments fear Libya is sliding deeper into war as the rival factions battle for control and the country’s oil wealth.

U.N. peace talks among key factions has made little concrete progress. But negotiations are expected to continue this month in an attempt to form a united government and end hostilities.

Kerry To Hold Talks In Ukraine

kerryAs fighting intensifies in Ukraine, the Unites States Secretary of State, John Kerry, is expected to arrive in the country to hold talks with President Petro Poroshenkom, and his Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk.

A superior source said that Kerry would offer U.S. support for efforts by Ukraine to negotiate a new ceasefire.

The issue of weapon deliveries to Ukraine and other U.S. assistance is expected to be one of the main items on the agenda.

Kerry also intends to provide an additional $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid to help civilians in eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials said.

Earlier, Ashton Carter, the White House’s choice for Defence Secretary, said that he was “inclined” to start supplying arms.

The U.S. has so far only provided “non-lethal” assistance to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, NATO is set to unveil what the bloc’s chief says are “the biggest reinforcement” of its “collective defense since the end of the cold war”.

However, Russia denies accusations by Ukraine and the west that it is arming the rebels in Eastern Ukraine and sending its regular troops across the border.

Russian Armoured Vehicle Attacked By Ukraine

russian soldiersUkraine said its artillery partly destroyed a Russian armoured column that entered its territory overnight, raising alarm that its forces came under shellfire from Russia on Friday in what appeared to be a major military escalation between ex-Soviet states.

The Russian government denied its troops had entered Ukraine, but the media reports may further inflame tensions between Moscow and the West, which have already imposed costly economic restrictions on each other.

NATO said there had been a Russian incursion into Ukraine, while avoiding the term invasion and the European capitals accused the Kremlin of escalating fighting.

“If confirmed, they are further evidence that Russia is doing the very opposite of what it’s saying. Russia has been escalating the conflict, even as it calls for de-escalation,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

At a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was alarmed that Russian forces might have crossed the border.

“If there are any Russian military personnel or vehicles in eastern Ukraine, they need to be withdrawn immediately or the consequences could be very serious,” he told reporters, just as Lithuania’s foreign minister also voiced concern.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper said on Friday that its reporter had seen several Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) crossing the border with Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said that some armoured vehicles did cross from Russian into Ukraine overnight, and that they were investigating.

“These movements into Ukrainian territory take place practically every day with the aim of provoking (the Ukrainian side),” a Ukrainian military spokesman, Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, said.

Despite the allegations of a fresh Russian military incursion, the momentum on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine is with the government forces.

They are winning territory from the separatists almost daily, and in the main rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk are pounding the rebels with artillery strikes. Civilians have also been wounded and killed.

Meanwhile, the rebels  appear to be in a disorderly retreat with three senior separatists removed from their post in the past seven days. One of them was Igor Strelkov, a Moscow native so feted among pro-Russian circles that T-shirts and mugs have been printed in Russia with his image.

Russia To Hold Military Exercises Near Ukraine In Show Of Strength

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside MoscowRussia announced military exercises near the border with Ukraine on Monday in a show of strength as the Ukrainian army recaptured more territory from pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

The Russian air force said that more than 100 aircraft, including fighter jets and bombers, were taking part in the manoeuvres this week in the central and western military districts.

The move could alarm Western powers which have accused Russia of beefing up its troops along its border with Ukraine and arming the rebels in eastern Ukraine, although Moscow denies the accusations.

The manoeuvres include missile-firing practice and will assist “coordination between aviation and anti-missile defence”, Interfax news agency quoted an Airforce spokesman as saying.

He said Russia’s latest bomber, the Su-24, was taking part, as well as Su-27 and MiG-31 fighter jets.

Russia upset the West by staging military exercises near Ukraine in March after the conflict with Ukraine flared. Moscow said in May that it had pulled back its forces but NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove said last week it still had more than 12,000 troops and weapons along the frontier.

The crisis has pushed relations between Russia and the West to their lowest level since the Cold War, with each side accusing the other of orchestrating events in Ukraine, and the United States and European Union imposing sanctions on Russia.

Russia has a firm grip on the Crimea Peninsula, which it annexed in March after Ukraine ousted a pro-Moscow president, but the rebels who wanted Moscow to also annexe east Ukraine have been losing ground in the past few weeks.

Militants Armed With Rocket Grenades Attack Kabul International Airpot

Video still shows Afghan security personnel on vehicles as an area near the Kabul airport comes under attackMilitants armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked Kabul International Airport in the Afghan capital on Thursday in one of the most audacious assaults on the facility, used by both civilians and the military, in a year.

The attack on the airport comes at a time of great uncertainty for Afghanistan as votes from the second round of a disputed presidential election are to be recounted. The poll is meant to mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.

The attack lasted about four hours after four unidentified militants armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades opened fire on the airport from the roof of a building just to its north.

“Four terrorists were killed by police special forces. The area is being cleared now, there are no casualties to our forces,” said Interior Ministry Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

The airport is home to a major operational base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting Taliban and other insurgents for 12 years and is bristling with soldiers and police, guard towers and several lines of security checkpoints.

Militants fire rockets into the airport almost every week, causing little damage, but frontal attacks on the heavily guarded facility are rare and represent an ambitious target for insurgents. The attack was similar in tactics to last year’s assault on the airport, when seven Taliban insurgents including suicide bombers attacked after taking up positions inside a partially constructed building nearby.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack.

A Kabul airport official told Reuters all flights had been diverted to other cities. In such circumstances, passenger planes are immediately diverted to other Afghan cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west.

“Due to the closeness of the attack to the runway, Kabul airport is now closed to all flights,” the official said. Planes could be heard circling above Kabul as the attack unfolded.

On Tuesday, a car bomb detonated in a crowded market killed 43 people and wounded at least 74 in the eastern province of Paktika, close to Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan.

U.S. Sending 175 Marines To Romania As Part of Africa Crisis Team

us-sending-175-marines-to-romania-amid-ukraine-crisisThe Pentagon said on Wednesday that it was bolstering the size of its Europe-based African crisis response force to 675 Marines, sending 175 new troops to a Romanian base near the Black Sea at a time of tensions over Russia’s annexation of part of Ukraine.

The Marines will be part of a team headquartered in Moron, Spain, and primarily meant for operations in Africa, although they can be sent anywhere, a Pentagon spokesman said. The decision to base the additional Marines in Romania was made last year before the current crisis, he said.

But it came on the heels of news on Tuesday that General Philip Breedlove, the top U.S. officer in Europe, is considering moving a U.S. warship into the Black Sea in the coming days to reassure NATO allies and exercise with partners.

Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed the department was looking at sending a ship to the Black Sea. He did not rule out exercises with the Ukrainian navy, but added the ship’s schedule of activities was still being decided.

“This is to reassure our allies of our commitment to the region. … It is a direct result of the current situation in Ukraine,” Warren told reporters.

Elaine Bunn, deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear and missile defense policy, told a Senate subcommittee hearing that U.S. officials were in close touch with European allies in NATO about possible “military options for strengthening the collective defense.” She declined to give details.

Warren said the decision to send 175 Marines to Mihail Kogalniceanu military base in Romania, near the Black Sea port of Constanta, was made before Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last month.

Some 265 Marines are already stationed at the Romanian base as part of a Black Sea Rotational Force that conducts training and other efforts to help build the military capacity of partners in the region.

Other U.S. forces also are stationed at the Romanian base, which is taking over as a transit hub for equipment being flown in and out of Afghanistan following the decision to close the transit center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan this summer.

To accommodate the additional Marines, U.S. officials in Romania sought and received permission from the government to have up to 600 Marines in the country at any given time, Warren said.

He said the intent was to maintain the Black Sea Rotational Force of about 300 Marines, and 175 Marines for the crisis response force, plus some “head room” for additional personnel when troops who are rotating into the country overlap with those departing. The Black Sea Force is due to rotate soon, he said.

The 175 additional Marines being sent to Romania will be coming from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and will be attached to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response, which was created following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“This … is frankly not linked to the current situation in Ukraine,” Warren said. “They belong to Africom (U.S. Africa Command) and the purpose of them is to be able to respond to crises, really throughout the region.”

The new Marines will expand the size of the crisis response force to 675 from 500.

NATO To Bolster Forces In East Europe, Sees No Russian Pullback

Rasmussen chairs a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in BrusselsNATO studied new steps to bolster its military presence in eastern Europe on Tuesday while saying it saw no sign that Russia was withdrawing tens of thousands of troops from the Ukrainian border.

Foreign ministers from the 28 members of the Western military alliance met in Brussels for the first time since Russia’s military occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

They were discussing ways to boost NATO’s military presence in former communist central and eastern Europe to reassure allies rattled by Russia’s moves.

They will also step up cooperation with Ukraine and decide whether to cut the alliance’s relations with Moscow beyond the steps it has already taken, which include halting lower-level meetings with Russian counterparts.

Calling Russia’s actions unacceptable, NATO Chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Through its actions, Russia has undermined the principles on which our partnership is built, and has breached its own international commitments. So we cannot go on doing business as usual.”

Russian President, Vladimir Putin told Germany’s Angela Merkel in a phone call on Monday that he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the eastern Ukrainian border, the German chancellor’s spokesman said.

But Rasmussen said NATO saw no sign of this.

“Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops. This is not what we are seeing,” he told reporters.

As NATO ministers met, Russia warned Ukraine against integration with NATO, saying Kiev’s previous attempts to move closer to the defence alliance had had unwelcome consequences.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, has said that the country’s new pro-Western leadership is not seeking membership of NATO, but NATO is expected to step up cooperation with Ukraine’s armed forces by training officers, holding joint exercises and promoting reforms.

The United States and its allies have made clear they have no military plans to defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, but they have assured allies in eastern Europe, which joined NATO in the last 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that they will be protected.

Taliban suicide bombers attack US base in Afghanistan

Suicide attackers on Sunday detonated bombs and fired rockets outside a major U.S base in Afghanistan, leaving five people dead in a brazen operation.

Local police officials said bodies in Afghan police and military uniforms were scattered around the entrance of the airfield in the eastern city of Jalalabad after a two-hour battle. A Taliban’s spokesman said the militant group had launched the assault since 6am.

The Taliban, who have been fighting U.S.-led NATO and Afghan forces for more than a decade, sometimes dress in uniforms for attacks.

Two suicide bombers died after blowing themselves up in cars, said Nasir Ahmad Safi, a spokesman for the provincial government.

Safi added that seven other bombers were killed in the gun battle with Afghan and coalition forces. Three Afghan soldiers and two civilians also died.

U.S. helicopters circled overhead.

“There was multiple suicide bombers involved,” said Major Martyn Crighton, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Several coalition troops were wounded, he said.

Reuters

12 killed in suicide blasts near U.S. base in Afghanistan

A fuel tanker laden with explosives was driven by a suicide bomb in the Wardak province injured scores as another suicide bomber wearing explosive vest detonated his explosives.

Two suicide attackers blew themselves up near a US base in Afghanistan, claiming at least 12 lives.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was aimed at the American base.

A spokesman for the Wardak provincial governor; Shahidullah Shadid said one suicide bomber detonated a vest rigged with explosives outside a compound housing the district governor’s office, while another in a fuel tanker detonated his bomb on a road separating the compound from the base and that eight civilians and four Afghan police were left dead. Also 59 people were wounded, including two Nato troops, 47 civilians and ten Afghan police officers.

General Abdul Qayum Bakizai who is the head of police, said it was a powerful explosion as it broke windows all over the area and most of the injuries were from broken glass from the windows of homes and shops. He concluded saying most of the truck wasn’t found to show how powerful the explosive was.

In a separate incident on Saturday, Nato said two US soldiers were killed in eastern Ghazni province. It did not provide any further information or details about the deaths, which were the first this month.

A total of 53 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan in August.

 

 

Suicide bombers kill seven after Obama leaves Afghan capital

Suicide bombers attacked a compound housing Westerners in Kabul on Wednesday hours after U.S. President Barack Obama signed a security pact during a short visit to a city that remains vulnerable to a resilient insurgency.

Afghan security forces members inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul May 2, 2012. At least six people were killed in the suicide car bomb attack in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, officials said, hours after U.S. President Barack Obama left Kabul following an unannounced visit during which he signed a strategic partnership agreement.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which involved a car bomb and insurgents disguised as women on the eastern outskirts of the capital, killing seven people, a Gurkha guard and six passers-by, and wounding 17.

The Taliban said it was in response to Obama’s visit and to the strategic partnership deal he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a pact that sets out a long-term U.S. role after most foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

The insurgency also claimed their spring offensive, which began two weeks ago with attacks in Kabul, would be renewed on Thursday, despite a security clamp-down in the capital.

Obama’s visit came a year after U.S. special forces troops killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks, in a raid in neighbouring Pakistan.

In a televised address to the American people from a base north of Kabul, he said the war in Afghanistan was winding down.

“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America,” Obama said, speaking against a backdrop of armoured vehicles and a U.S. flag.

“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”

Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban rulers were ousted in 2001.

The Taliban, overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces for harbouring bin Laden and other militants, were quick to take credit for Wednesday’s attack at Green Village, one of several compounds for Westerners on a main road out of the capital.

“This attack was to make clear our reaction to Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. The message was that instead of signing a strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan, he should think about taking his troops out from Afghanistan and leave it to Afghans to rebuild their country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

But America’s Kabul ambassador, Ryan Crocker, said involvement of the Haqqani network – which Washington believes is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and which it blames for high-profile attacks in Kabul in April – could not be ruled out.

On the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing, Crocker said he did not believe there would be a sole turning point in the war.

“Al Qaeda is still there. We do feel we are prevailing in this with our Afghan partners,” he said. “We cannot be in a position of taking on ourselves bringing perfection to Afghanistan. That has to be left to Afghans.”

But Crocker said there would be no repeat of the 1990s when a withdrawal of Western backers in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal unleashed a vicious civil war out of which the Taliban and al Qaeda support bases arose.

BLOOD STAINS

Hundreds of police and intelligence agency troops surrounded the area around Green Village after the attack. Ruined cars were seen in front of the compound gates but officials said no attackers made it inside the heavily-guarded complex.

“I was going to the office when the car in front of me blew up. I got on my bicycle and fled,” 40-year-old Farid Ahmad Mohammad told Reuters near the scene of the explosion.
A worker at the compound, Jamrod, said at a hospital where the wounded had been taken that he had been showing his identity card at the compound’s main gate when the vehicle exploded.

“I heard a bang and then I slammed into the wall,” Jamrod, still clad in blood-stained jeans, told Reuters.

Wednesday’s attack was the latest in a recent surge of violence after the Taliban announced they had begun their usual “spring offensive”, and since they suspended tentative steps towards peace talks with the United States.

Such incidents raise troubling questions about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over when militants remain able to stage high-profile attacks, even when already tight security had been beefed up even further for Obama’s visit.

Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in Kabul last month, paralyzing the city’s centre and diplomatic area for 18 hours.

The Taliban also claimed responsibility for those attacks, but U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the militant, al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.

ELECTION YEAR

Obama’s visit was clearly an election-year event.

He spoke to U.S. troops during a stay in Afghanistan of roughly six hours and emphasized bin Laden’s demise, an event his re-election campaign has touted as one of his most important achievements in office.

“Not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Obama said to cheers.

But even as he asserted in his speech that there was a “clear path” to fulfilling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and made his strongest claim yet that the defeat of al Qaeda was “within reach”, he warned of further hardship ahead.

“I recognize that many Americans are tired of war … But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly,” he said at Bagram airbase, where only months ago thousands of Afghans rioted after U.S. troops accidentally burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

That incident, and the killing of 17 Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier weeks later, plunged already tense relations to their lowest point in years.

While speaking in broad terms of “difficult days ahead”, Obama did not address some of the thorniest challenges.

These include corruption in Karzai’s government, the unsteadiness of Afghan forces in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, and Washington’s strained ties with Pakistan, where U.S. officials see selective cooperation in cracking down on militants fuelling cross-border violence.

Earlier, Obama met Karzai at his walled garden palace in Kabul, where they signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. “By signing this document, we close the last 10 years and open a new season of equal relations,” Karzai said after the meeting.

The agreement does not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops, possibly special forces, and advisers will remain after NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline. That will be dealt with in a separate status-of-forces agreement still being worked out.

REUTERS

Gunmen launch fresh attacks in Kabul

An attack has been launched by gunmen in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, assaulting Western embassies in the heavily guarded, central diplomatic area and at the parliament in the west, witnesses and officials said.

Billows of smoke from attacked building

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the assault, one of the boldest on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.

The Taliban said their main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force. Taliban fighters had also launched assaults in two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

“We claim responsibility for these attacks,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The coordinated attack is bound to intensify worry in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

Afghan security forces, who are responsible for the safety of the capital, were scrambling to reinforce areas around the so-called green diplomatic section of the city centre.

Attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed just outside the front gate of a house used by British diplomats in the city centre and smoke billowed from the area after the blast, a Reuters witness said.

British embassy sources said staff were in a lockdown.

Two rockets hit a British Embassy guard tower near the Reuters office in the city.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said via Twitter that there were no reports of casualties on possibly seven locations in Kabul.

“ANSF and ISAF responding as needed,” the spokesman said, referring to Afghan security forces and their NATO partners.

However, fighting was going on near the U.S., Russian and German embassies, and at some ISAF facilities, the Twitter report said.

Three other rockets hit a supermarket near the German Embassy popular with foreigners, Reuters witnesses said. Women scurried for cover as crackling gunfire was heard above.

As the gunfire continued, U.S. army convoys could be seen coming to the area accompanied by Afghan police in flak jackets.

Shooting came from various directions in an area close to both the U.S. and British embassies, while smoke billowed from the nearby German embassy, the Reuters witnesses said.

Embassy alarms were sounding. Staff at the embassies were not available for comment.

Attackers also fired rockets at the parliament building in the west of the city, and at the Russian embassy, a spokesman for the parliament said.

Most MPs had left the building before it came under attack, said a lawmaker.

Afghan media said insurgents had stormed the Star Hotel complex near the presidential palace and the Iranian embassy and black smoke was pouring from the building.

In the eastern province of Paktia, insurgents occupied a four-storey building near the compound of the chief of police, a witness said.

A helicopter gunship from Afghanistan’s NATO-led force was firing at the building in the province on the Pakistani border, which has been plagued by violence for years.

 

French Attack:NATO Unsure of Perpetrator

The International Security Assistance Force led by NATO today said it was still not sure if it was the Afghan Taliban that was behind the killing of four French Troops last week.

French Attacks

ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson at a news conference in Kabul said “So it is far too early to make statement of Taliban involvement in general, or in this specific incident, at the present time and we do know that the perpetrator on Friday was a member of the Afghan National Army and that he is in custody.”He concluded.

The Afghan Taliban said it had recruited an Afghan National Army soldier to shoot the French soldiers in eastern Kapisa province a day earlier.

The attack prompted France to suspend all military operations in Afghanistan and to threaten an early exit from the NATO-led war in the country.

Longuet flew to Kabul at the weekend for emergency talks with the Afghan government and to seek guarantees on the safety of the 3,900 French troops.

The killings were the latest in a series of attacks by Afghan security forces against their Western allies.