The summer of 2009 was host to a wave of violence and protest organised by the far right in Britain, leading Communities Secretary John Denham to draw comparisons with the fascist agitation of the 1930s that culminated in the Battle of Cable Street. Recent months have seen the arrest of two lone individuals, Neil Lewington and Martyn Gilleard, found to be in possession of homemade explosives. On a larger scale, the emergence of the English Defence League, who coordinated a series of protests ostensibly against Islamic extremism, but which heavily featured less targeted Islamophobic sentiment, has provoked fears of a renewed series of race riots.
Regardless of the politicised nostalgia espoused by the far right, today's right-wing extremists have harnessed the power of Britain's twenty-first century connectivity, making virtual inroads after decades of dormancy. In place of the mass rallies orchestrated by the likes of Albert Speer and feats of propagandistic film making exemplified by the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's A Triumph of the Will, modern day fascism has turned to online forums and viral video.
Lord Malloch-Brown, British minister for the UN, Africa and Asia, admitted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that British forces "definitely don't have enough helicopters" in Afghanistan. In a statement later issued from the Foreign Office, Malloch-Brown qualified his admission, affirming that "there are without doubt sufficient resources for current operations". Gordon Brown attempted to quell the debate claiming, "We have the helicopters we need". The statements come amid a media furore over the adequacy of army equipment provoked by the deaths of eighteen servicemen this month.
The toD verdict: Calls from the military for more funding are age-old, but the support of a senior cabinet minister distinguishes the present crisis. Public disquiet about the level of casualties in Afghanistan has been fuelled by the broader desire to see British troops returned home, with two thirds of the public according to recent polls wanting full withdrawal within a year. Malloch-Brown's comments clearly reflect such a mood, questioning the importance of Afghanistan in combating global terrorism. It is the fundamental disagreement about strategy which has made deaths in Afghanistan so poignant, but the majority of the press continues to present the issue as one of equipment and logistics rather than grand strategy. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
More informative was Malloch-Brown's admission that the government had not properly prepared the public for the fact that Britain was "going on the offensive". As in Iraq, British forces under pressure to minimise casualties had accordingly minimised their exposure to risk in Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban to take control of areas in which they are only now being challenged.
By moving on to the offensive, international forces have raised the possibility of success, following the "clear, hold and build" strategy advocated by many analysts, including most recently by Paddy Ashdown. But the strategy will inevitably lead to a greater numbers of casualties, and these may undermine the support of the third of the public that remain in favour of continuing operations until Afghanistan is stable. The equipment debate reveals the formidable difficulties of waging a war effectively in a region only seen as peripheral to national interests.
Six police officers killed during Taliban attacks in eastern Afghanistan
The Taliban yesterday launched a series of attacks on government and security facilities in Jalalabad and Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. Taliban gunmen, some of whom wore burqas to disguise explosive suicide belts, attacked the governor's compound, police department and intelligence department in Gardez and a US airfield in Jalalabad, killing six Afghan police and intelligence officers. Eight Taliban gunmen were killed and one captured as police responded to the attacks.
Pakistan fears Helmand offensive will provoke security crisis
Pakistani intelligence officials fear that the UK-US offensive in southern Afghanistan may push Taliban forces across the border, further destabilising the restive Pakistani province of Baluchistan. The unnamed officers told the New York Times that Pakistan will not be able to bring sufficient troops to the border to avert a major influx of Taliban fighters. Baluchistan already poses a serious concern for the Pakistani security forces who continue to struggle to suppress a native Baluch insurgency.
Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to the middle east, arrived in Pakistan last night, where he will hear concerns over the effects of the offensive, a senior official told the Associated Foreign Press.
Clinton fears North Korean nuclear ties with Myanmar
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed US fears of a "transfer of nuclear technology" from North Korea to Myanmar. She highlighted the destabilising impact a nuclear Myanmar would have on he region in advance of the US-ASEAN conference held today and tomorrow.
All ten ASEAN members, including Myanmar, are also signatories of the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty and are expected to today sign a regional Treaty on Amity and Cooperation, pledging non-interference in domestic affairs and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
Gold mine workers ambushed in Papua
Two people were reported to have been killed today after gunmen ambushed a twelve-truck convoy carrying US mining contractors in the Papua province of Indonesia. The attack is the latest in a string of strikes against PT Freeport, the region's largest gold mining company, which earlier in the month left two Indonesians and one Australian dead. The police yesterday detained seventeen people in connection with previous attacks.
The company's activities have caused resentment among Papuans, who have criticised its environmental impact and the minimal revenue reinvested in the local economy. Papua is also home to a forty-year-old insurgency, the Free Papua Movement, which has sought independence for the province. Although Indonesian authorities blamed the movement for the attacks, their involvement, if any, is not yet established.
Niger Delta militants free six hostages
Militants operating in Nigeria's delta region released six hostages captured on 4 July from the oil tanker The Sichem Peace. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) released the hostages as a sign of its commitment to a sixty-day ceasefire declared last week. Over 200 workers have been held captive since the insurgency in the region intensified in 2006. MEND spokesmen Jomo Gbomo called on the government to reciprocate, withdrawing forces from the Niger Delta and reallocating oil revenues to the impoverished region.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's condemed violence in China's Xinjiang province as "genocide", amongst other notes of solidarity and outrage across the Muslim world sparked by recent events in Urumqi. Erdogan's remarks drew harsh criticism from Chinese media, and Chinese diplomats have demanded a formal apology. Any hope that China could quickly pacify the region, salvaging its international prestige, were dashed in Urumqi yesterday where two Uyghur men who were allegedly calling for jihad were shot by Chinese security forces, large numbers of whom are still in deployment across the city.
The toD verdict: In terms more familiarly directed against western accusations of human rights abuses, the Chinese state condemned Turkey's "interference in Chinese internal affairs" but there is little hope that the wider Muslim world will turn a blind eye to the treatment of the Uyghur population and China's reputation, and even security abroad may suffer.
Perhaps most significantly, al-Qaeda issued a call for vengeance against Chinese workers in Muslim regions, signalling the first direct threat by the terrorist group against Chinese interests. Hamas warned of the dangers of damaging Chinese relations with Muslim people but did not signal any direct threat. In an apparent nod to the risks China's domestic situation now poses abroad, the Chinese foreign minister announced extra precautions would be taken to guard Chinese interests.
Like Turkey, Indonesia bore witness to anti-Chinese riots, where, as in much of South East Asia, Chinese and Muslim populations live alongside. Whether such popular outrage will substantially damage China's close economic and diplomatic relations with much of the Muslim world remains to be seen.
Tribal forces take fight to the Taliban in North West Pakistan
Local officials in Mohmand district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province reported that 23 Taliban militants had been killed in an attack by a 150 strong pro-government tribal militia in the region. The militia are said to be pursuing the Taliban, who fled to surrounding highlands. The government has pursued a course of supporting local Lashkars, as the tribal militias are known, in regions beyond the pale of the Pakistani state and its security forces. Although the strike is an indication of the effectiveness of such a course, doubts remain over the capacity of Lashkars to systematically suppress Taliban activity.
Meanwhile, an oil truck convoy on route to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan was ambushed approaching the nearby Khyber Pass. Mortar fire preceded a direct attack on the convoy that left two civilians dead and a tanker in flames. It is the latest of several attacks on NATO supply routes in Pakistan which run through Taliban dominated borderlands.
Niger Delta militants strike Lagos
Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) launched a daring first attack on Nigeria's first city. Gunmen disembarked from speedboats and attacked the Atlas Cove Jetty, a facility for tankers to unload fuel, within sight of the city's financial district where multinationals such as Royal Dutch Shell are based. At least eight naval personnel were shot in the raid before the facility was blown up using explosives and the gunmen withdrew. The jetty was damaged "beyond repair", according to the executive of a key oil importing firm. The country, despite being the eighth biggest exporter of crude oil, relies on imported fuel due to the underdevelopment of its refineries and is now likely to face fuel shortages.
Russian president and US destroyer descend on Georgia
The USS Stout, a guided missile destroyer, weighed anchor of the coast of Georgia ahead of US-Georgian naval exercises widely seen as a show of US strength directed at Russia's attempt to restore its dominance in the Caucasus. The exercises will take place off the Georgian coast, a large portion of which is under the de facto control of the separatist state of Abkhazia.
The deployment comes a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a surprise visit to the Russian sponsored breakaway republic of South Ossetia. The visit was denounced by Georgian President Miheil Saakashvili reacted harshly to Medvedev's surpeise visit and meeting with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, who he denounced as an "unwashed murderer" and "corrupt criminal".
Gunmen kidnap two French citizens in Mogadishu
Two French citizens were abducted from their hotel by armed men in Mogadishu, the war-ravaged capital of Somalia. The men, who have been reported to be either journalists of security consultants, were taken hostage after around ten gunmen disarmed hotel guards on Tuesday morning.
The attack follows a recent outbreak of fighting around the presidential palace in the capital. Militants retreated from their positions around the palace after the active intervention of African Union peacekeepers, leaving scores killed and around 150 wounded after heavy fighting on Sunday. The reported intervention of African Union troops is the first since their deployment under rules of engagement which limit their use of force to self-defence. An African Union spokesmen said the peacekeepers only engaged in a show of force, rather than all-out combat, with the militants.
Mugabe supporters disrupt conference for new Zimbabwe constitution
A conference intended to draft a new constitution for Zimbabwe was disrupted by Zanu-PF supporters of President Robert Mugabe who sang revolutionary songs, threw bottles at politicians and engaged in scuffles with supporters of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The clashes, in which a MDC councillor was badly wounded, forced the cancellation of the event and riot police were deployed to restore order. After the violence subsided, Mugabe and Tsvangirai met and gave a joint press conference at which both stressed the necessity of a new constitution and ruled out an investigation into the origins of Monday's disturbances. The constitution, which it is hoped will give parliament more power to balance the executive, is intended to replace the existing constitution agreed with Britain in 1979.
Han Chinese vigilantes embarked on a major offensive against Uighur businesses and residences after inter-ethnic violence and the police response claimed 157 lives over the weekend in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province.
The toD verdict: Ethnic clashes in Urumqi quickly took on an international dimension as both Uighur and Han diasporas took to city streets across the world. Approximately ten million Uighurs live outside of China. Munich, the headquarters of the World Uighur Congress was the site of two petrol bomb attacks on the Chinese consulate, while in The Hague, Dutch police arrested 142 demonstrators outside the Chinese embassy. Rebiya Kadeer, the leader of the Congress, was blamed by Chinese officials for stirring unrest, but denied the claims and insisted Chinese police tactics were to blame for transforming peaceful protests into rioting.
Both sides have also struggled for the sympathy of the international media, making increasing use of new tactics to disseminate their experiences and interpretations of events on the ground. The Chinese state, rather than depending on excluding journalists from the crisis zone as was customary during violent unrest in Tibet in March 2008, has instead chosen more sophisticated forms of manipulation; setting up news rooms, offering hotel accommodation to journalists at chosen locations and shaping reporter's itineraries. Images of injured Han civilians have filled Chinese news outlets in an attempt to portray police actions as defending the innocent, thus discrediting Uighur grievances. In accordance with this aim, police and civilian officials desperately attempted to restore order today, lest Han violence undermine the narrative of Chinese victimhood. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
For Uighur activists and independent journalists, Twitter and online blogs have become important forums for relating stories of police suppression, as they have during recent protests in Iran. But while internet sources have served as a platform for reporting stifled by government restrictions, lingering uncertainty over their reliability is likely to leave foreign observers unable to draw conclusions or make clear judgements.
Ten foreign troops killed in Taliban strikes across Afghanistan
Taliban attacks and a helicopter crash made Monday one of the bloodiest days for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 American-led invasion. Four American military instructors were killed in a rare attack in the relatively peaceful north of the country. More familiarly, a roadside bomb killed two marines in southern Afghanistan and a third died in a firefight with militants in the east of the country. Two British and one Canadian serviceman died in a helicopter crash in Zabul province. The crash was not provoked by enemy fire, a British army spokesman insisted.
US and Russia agree nuclear stockpile reduction
Barack Obama gave a landmark speech in Moscow yesterday in which he again promised to "reset" American relations with Russia. The talk follows the joint announcement by Obama and Russian President Medvedev of their intention to reduce both nation's nuclear stockpiles to between 1,500 and 1,670 warheads and 500 to 1,100 strategic launch vehicles. The US and Russia will also recommit to a non-proliferation cooperation deal abrogated by George Bush in response to hostilities in Georgia in 2008.
South Korea and US in ballistic missile negotiations
Senior sources at the US military mission in Seoul have indicated that the US will revise current agreements with South Korea limiting the range of their missile armaments to 186 miles. South Korea's missile capabilities have been limited since 1976 in the hope of averting a spiralling regional arms race but North Korea's expanding arsenal has led to growing demands in the South to keep pace with their northern neighbour.
Israel will bypass US on Iran strike
Israeli sources disclosed to Washington Times, a right-wing US daily, that the Netanyahu administration views seeking US permission for a strike on Iran as a pointless endeavour since the White House would not approve an attack. Israeli jets would have to coss Iraqi airspace to launch any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and so the US would have to at least permit Israeli transit. On Sunday Vice President Joe Biden defended Israel's "sovereign right" to attack Iran if it viewed the country as a threat, saying it was "not our choice" whether Israel would attack. The Washington Times' Israeli sources however believe Israel would refrain from asking US permission since they expect rejection.
Wave of bomb attacks hits southern Philippines
Six people were killed and forty wounded in twin blasts on Jolo Island, the latest in a string of bomb attacks to hit the southern Philippines during the ongoing Abu Sayyaaf insurgency in the region. A third bomb was found and defused by police. The Abu Sayyaf are suspected of several recent attacks and kidnappings, including that of an Italian captured in January and still held by the group. A linked Islamist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are blamed for a recent attack on a cathedral in Cotabato city in which six people were killed and fifty wounded.
Four combat troops were killed in Baghdad overnight just as American forces were handing over security for Iraq's major cities to Iraqi forces. American troops in the capital were redeployed to two bases near Baghdad airport. In honour of the handover, a milestone in the US planned full withdrawal by 2011, Iraq declared 30 June National Sovereignty Day and held fireworks and rallies to mark the occasion.
The toD verdict: Iraqis' celebration of their national sovereignty as American troops leave major urban areas after six years of occupation is understandable yet with greater responsibility for internal security, the fledgling government will face a host of challenges. In a sign of continued instability, the parades and celebrations were held within Baghdad's Green Zone, which, while under Iraqi control since January, continues to highlight the instability of central government.
Although the Iraqi government has spun the withdrawal as a "victory", doubts remain that Iraqi forces can secure the country's major cities that have been host to several violent attacks in recent days, including a car bomb in Mosul which killed ten yesterday and two blasts in Baghdad last week in which over 150 people died. Despite the fall in aggregate levels of violence, the ability of insurgents to continue to launch large scale attacks must fill Iraqi military leaders with foreboding. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
President Nuri al-Maliki warned his enemies of the "fatal mistake" of underestimating Iraq's ability to defend itself, but the challenges posed by external powers are no less substantial than those of a home grown insurgency. General Ray Odierno, the US's top commander in Iraq, warned that neighbouring Iran was still "supporting, funding and training surrogates inside Iraq" and blamed attacks on individuals "supported by Iran". Iraq's National Sovereignty Day should not be taken to mark independence from outside forces, and Iraqi stability will continue to depend on Iranian good will and American diplomatic support.
Taliban-Pakistan ceasefire collapses in Afghan borderland
Taliban in North Waziristan have abrogated a standing ceasefire with the Pakistani government, launching a raid that killed sixteen soldiers. The terms of the agreement, reached in February 2008, are not disclosed but Taliban spokesmen blamed "Pakistan's failure to stop the drone attacks in North and South Waziristan".
Pakistan has been preparing for an offensive against the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's forces in South Waziristan but the collapse of the treaty with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in the north raises the danger of an escalating conflict.
North Korea enriching uranium
The South Korean government has warned that their Northern neighbour was "moving forward" with the enrichment of uranium, giving the country a potential second source material to complement their established plutonium based nuclear arsenal. North Korea's plutonium development at the Yongbyon plant has been closely monitored by foreign intelligence services but uranium offers the potential of secret underground enrichment.
The question of Kim Jong Il's successor as the nation's leader, considered to have fuelled the North's recent bellicose warnings, nuclear tests and missile launches, may have come a step closer to conclusion with South Korean intelligence reporting that Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, had been officially nominated as heir. South Korea's defence minister however advised caution, suggesting that no final decision has yet been reached.
Sri Lankan army will establish Tamil unit
Sri Lanka's reconciliation minister, Vinyagamoorthi Muralitharan, has announced plans to from an ethnic Tamil military unit in the country's armed forces. Muralitharan defected from the LTTE in 2004, constituting the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal party (TMVP), a paramilitary organization and political party which will form the basis of the new unit. Although now an established democractic party with representation in the ruling coalition, the TMVP have been subject to criticism for recruiting child soldiers and abusing civilians. Sri Lanka, despite declaring vicrtory in the country's civil war against the LTTE, has outlined plans to significantly expand its standing army.
Ousted Honduran president vows to return
Michael Zelaya, the president of Honduras displaced by a military coup on Sunday, promised to return to the country on Thursday to restore democratic process and resume his interrupted tenure as president. Zelaya called on the nations armed forces to return to their barracks and to "stop repressing the people". Leaders from across the Americas called for the restoration of Zelaya's government, with Venezualan president Hugo Chevaz halting oil exports to the nation in the interim and withdrawing diplomats in a joint move with other members of the ALBA alliance of left leaning governments in the Americas.
Russian war games raise fears in Georgia
Russia launched a series of provocative military exercises in the Russian Caucasus, close to the Georgian border. A Russian military spokesmen did little to soften the potential impact of the exercises, describing preparations for "battle readiness" in the region which have been attacked by Georgian officials as "further increasing tensions".
In a further sign of Russia's increasing dominance in the Caucasus, UN observers were forced to withdraw today from Georgia's borders after the failure of negotiations to prolong their mission in the country due to Russian objections.
Between 45 and 70 mourners were killed yesterday after a US drone targeted a funeral for a senior Taliban militant, killed by a second drone earlier on Tuesday, in South Waziristan. Reports as to the numbers and specific individuals killed in the strikes vary but it is likely that the tally will include local civilians also in attendance at the funeral. Sangin Khan, an Afghan Taliban commander, is reported to be among the dead, while Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, narrowly missed the strike.
The toD verdict: US drones continued to patrol Waziristan today as a major confrontation between the Pakistani army and Mehsud's forces looms. While Pakistan objects to the US use of drones in public, it is likely that the growing intensity of strikes that weaken a common enemy indicate an improving unofficial military collaboration in western Pakistan. Pakistan's interior minister, Syed Samsam Ali Bukhari, familiarly denounced yesterday's attacks as "counterproductive", but these public condemnations are reported to be part of face-saving measures agreed with the US.
Aerial intelligence provided by the drones is passed to Pakistani command and US support will play a crucial part in the coming battle. It seems unlikely, however, that the US will man operations in collaboration with Pakistan as such incursions may detract from the prestige which it is hoped will accompany a victory for the state.
The necessity of a visibly clear-cut and independent Pakistani victory for the future stability of the troubled state is paramount. The success of operations rests as much on military victory as it does on the struggle for "hearts and minds". The conditions which face Pashtun civilians, 45,000 of whom have already fled South Waziristan, will be subject to scrutiny and criticism equal to that faced in the wake of the conflict in the Swat Valley and adequate humanitarian provision will be crucial to securing international and domestic support for Pakistan's war against the Taliban.
US reproaches Israel for settlement expansion
A meeting in Paris between the Israeli president Benyamin Netanyahu and the US middle eastern envoy, George Mitchell, was reportedly cancelled after Israel reconfirmed its commitment to settlement expansion in the West Bank. Netanyahu has continued to defend the "natural growth" of Israeli communities in Palestine while vowing to prohibit the development of new settlements. The Obama administration has rejected such a compromise, with secretary of state Hilary Clinton refusing to accept "natural growth exceptions". US consular officials in Israel have been monitoring settlement expansion, while Israeli statistics suggest that migration to the West Bank, as opposed to the growth of families already present, accounted for over a third of population increase in the settlements in recent years.
North Korean vessel tests UN export sanctions
The first major test to toughened UN sanctions on North Korea is now unravelling across the Pacific Ocean as a North Korean vessel suspected of carrying armaments heads towards Burma pursued by the warship USS John S McCain. The US will refrain from intercepting the merchant vessel, an act which North Korea has warned would constitute a declaration of war, during the two week voyage. The ship may face inspection from port authorities during necessary refuelling along the 4,100 mile route and coastal nations in the region will come under intense diplomatic pressure from the US and others to fully enforce the UN measures. Singapore, the regions major refuelling station has vowed to "act appropriately" if suspicious goods are present onboard. The UN resolutions, issued in the wake of North Korea's successful nuclear test, bar countries from servicing vessels suspected of carrying illicit goods.
Top Chinese dissident charged with subversion
A senior Chinese dissident and pro-democracy advocate, Liu Xiaobo, was arrested yesterday for "activities aimed at subversion". Liu, an activist first imprisoned following the suppression of protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, had been held for seven months after signing Charter 08, a petition for democratisation which has so far attracted 8,000 signatories. His arrest could culminate in up to fifteen years imprisonment and has been seen by human rights groups as an indication of a toughening state response to dissent. Over a dozen human rights lawyers who had defended dissenters in the past were disbarred from practice earlier in the month and Liu will have to find a credited lawyer if he is to be defended at trial.
Russia denounces Kyrgyz-American airbase deal
Officials in Russia's foreign ministry have attacked Kyrgyzstan's agreement to permit the continued use of Manas airbase by US forces as a "dirty trick". Speaking to the newspaper Kommersant, the unnamed official warned of a "corresponding response" to a decision which was "against the interests of Russia". Kyrgyzstan had refused to give the US permission to renew its lease of the base following a $2 billion aid deal agreed with Russia in February. Under the new terms, the base will be renamed and permission granted only for the transit of non-lethal materials to neighbouring Afghanistan, for which privilege the US will pay $180 million.
Former Bagram detainees accuse US soldiers of abuse
Inmates released from the US military prison at Bagram airbase, Kabul, have alleged a series of abuses committed against them while in US custody. The twenty-seven former internees, interviewed by the BBC, were all released without trial. With the exception of two prisoners who claimed to have been treated well, they complained of various forms of mistreatment most prominent among which were death threats, stress positions, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation. A spokesman for the US secretary of defence denied the charges, claiming that conditions met "international standards for care and custody". Bagram, however, is not bound by international law and has been accused of operating in a legal black whole in which detainees have no access to lawyers or right to trial. Following the discontinuation of similar legal anomalies at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration initiated an investigation into detention at Bagram which is due to report its findings next month.
Iran's highest body, the Guardian Council, has announced it is prepared to partially recount last week's electoral votes in a bid to prevent further unrest. The runner up and figure head of the opposition Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who led calls for a full re-run, asked supporters to stay at home after planned rallies today promised further violence. Meanwhile, foreign journalists have been confined to their offices in Tehran to prevent reporting of continued violent confrontations in the capital which claimed the lives of at least seven people on Monday
The toD verdict: The Iranian government admitted its first major concession today in the face of protests with its offer of a recount, but the move may only aim at breaking the momentum of the opposition movement as protests become increasingly confrontational. Combined with the Culture Ministry's restrictions on press freedom in the capital, the measures indicate a desire on the part of the regime to stave off international criticism which was in part prompted by the shocking images of state violence that emerged in recent days.
Australia, Japan and the European Union all voiced criticism of Iran's handling of the protests while Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attempted to sure up support during a state visit to one of Iran's key supporters, Russia, in a growing competition between the state and opposition for international support. Hinting at possible international sanctions, British prime minister Gordon Brown warned of "implications for Iran's relationships with the rest of the world".
After these limited concessions, Iran's fate rests with the tactics and reaction of the opposition movement. The BBC's Jon Leyne suggested Moussavi would reject the Guardian Council's offer, a move that may reinvigorate opposition protests he had called off today. So far Mousavi, a former Prime Minister, has attempted to maintain a face of loyal opposition to the incumbent president, but the state's arrest of close aides and supporters raises the possibility that he will refashion himself as a more radical opponent of the regime. Evidence of a rising opposition movement emerged at Tehran University, a predicted site of protest quickly cordoned off by police following the election results, where 120 academics have resigned.
Britain to hold Iraq war inquiry
Gordon Brown announced yesterday that Britain's participation in the Iraq war will be subject to an official inquiry. The government's critics, including both the Liberal and Conservative opposition parties, have continued to call for greater openness, however, doubting whether the government's appointees, operating without public scrutiny, will be fully independent. John Chilcott, a member of the Butler inquiry into the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, will lead the inquiry which also notably includes Lawrence Freedman, a major intellectual voice behind military intervention to promote democracy but a critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war. The government has ruled out any prosecutions based on evidence provided to the inquiry and participation will be purely voluntary.
Three hostages killed in Yemeni kidnapping
Three of the nine European hostages captured in Yemen were found dead yesterday. The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced the departure of a German forensics team to help identify the mutilated bodies, among whom Steinmeier feared were almost certainly two missing German nurses, as well as a South Korean aid worker. The Yemeni authorities have offered a £15,000 reward for any information leading to the release of a British engineer, and a German doctor and his wife and three children who are still missing. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in a country plagued by several violent anti-government groups. The unprecedented murder and mutilation of women, distinguishing this case from the two-hundred kidnappings which have occurred in the country in the past fifteen years, has led western security experts to suspect al-Qaeda but the Yemeni government blame the Shiite Houthi tribe.
US sets out North Korean nuclear cordon
The US navy will hail and request permission to inspect North Korean merchant marine in international waters, track ships to international destinations and pressure port authorities to investigate any exported cargo under plans to enforce reinvigorated sanctions agreed at the UN Security Council meeting on Friday. The US will not, however, forcefully board North Korean ships, after North Korea warned that such measures would constitute an act of war, but maintained its right to seize war materials if discovered. The success of such a confrontational policy rests on international unity outweighing the commercial advantages of liberalised maritime trade with the North Korean fleet. Promisingly, China, a potential weak link in the partial embargo, has reaffirmed its commitment to uphold the UN measures.
In a further show of solidarity today, US president Barack Obama will meet South Korean president Lee Myung-bak. Although both statesmen are likely to present a united front with regard to the security situation on the Korean peninsula, the troubled free trade arrangement signed by both nations' previous administrations may present a stumbling block in otherwise amicable negotiations.
Russia vetoes extension of UN mission in Georgia
Proposals before the Security Council to extend the UN monitoring mission to the breakaway republic to Abkhazia were vetoed by Russia last night whose UN envoy denounced the "old realities" on which the mission was premised. Georgia and its western allies reacted hostilely to Russia's use of its veto on the contentious issue, accusing Russia of attempting to cover up its expanding military presence in the region. Only Nicaragua has joined Russia in recognising both breakaway provinces as independent republics, confounding a Russian campaign to consolidate the regions' diplomatic independence.
The US middle east envoy, George Mitchell, was in Israel today to reassure Israeli president Shimon Peres that their countries would remain "close allies and friends" despite recent disagreements. Their conversations come amid an intensification of middle eastern diplomacy in which Mitchell will later today meet Israeali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who held a telephone conference with US president Barack Obama on Monday, and meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
The toD verdict: Mithchell's efforts were clearly directed at allaying any Israeli anxieties raised by Obama's watershed address to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, in which Obama again called on Israel to freeze settlement building in the West Bank and labelled Palestinian suffering "intolerable". While Mitchell echoed Obama's insistence on a two state solution, his main purpose seems to have been to emphasise US-Israeli solidarity. The US is walking a fine line in its middle eastern diplomacy, attempting to apply pressure on Israel to change its policies without seeming to threaten the US' "unshakeable" commitment to Israeli security.
However, the prospect that the US can significantly alter Israeli behaviour without at least the closet threat that its military support of Israel is conditional on such changes seems overly optimistic. So far Netanyahu's concessions have been limited, promising only to withdraw a handful of Israeli outpost settlements, those furthest from the 1967 boundries of the two states, allowing "natural growth" to continue in the remainder and refraining from referring to a "Palestinian state". The success or failure of such a tactic is likely to be confirmed on Sunday, when Netanyahu will give a speech outlining Israel's peace policy with Palestinians.
Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking hereGunmen kill twelve in Thai mosque attack
Unidentified armed men raided a mosque in Cho-ai-rong, southern Thailand, yesterday, killing twelve people including the mosque's imam. The attacks come amid an intensifying separatist insurgency, which has so far claimed the lives of 3,700 people in the three southernmost provinces of the country, a predominantly Muslim region annexed by Thailand in 1902. Since the attack, insurgents have blocked roads with logs and burning vehicles, while bomb squads have been called into the region to dispose of several suspected explosives after a blast at an oil depot injured two people. General Songkitti Chakkrabat, the Thai military's supreme commander, claimed that the army was in control of the situation.
US in prisoner exchange scheme with Iraqi insurgents
The US military released Laith al-Khazali, a Shia insurgent implicated in an attack which killed five US marines, in a prisoner exchange bid according to US military spokesman Brian Maka. The move is intended to encourage political reconciliation between the armed Shia group Asa'ib al-Haq, of which al-Khazali was a prominent member, and the Iraqi government. The group had now "pledged to give up violence", Maka said. Two Shia leaders indicated it was the first stage of negotiations for the release of two British citizens, held hostage since May 2007, but the US refused to acknowledge any such connection.
British troops seize £65m of Taliban harvested opium
In a major raid against an drugs processing plant in Afghanistan's Upper Sangin Valley, 450 Black Watch troops and 100 Afghan soldiers seized opium, heroin and cannabis with a street value of £65m as well as a small arms cache. The Black Watch's commanding officer, Stephen Cartwright, claimed the victory was a "significant setback" for the Helmand insurgency, but it represents a small dent in an industry thought to have an export value of £2.1bn in 2008. Opium production declined in Afghanistan over the last year by around 25 percent, but the UN ascribed these changes to economic variables rather than any success in eradication.
UN war crimes investigation in Gaza unlikely to prosecute
Richard Goldstone, the judge leading the UN's war crimes investigation in Gaza, admitted a series of difficulties which make prosecutions resulting from his mission unlikely. Israel has refused to cooperate with the investigation, which was incapable of reaching an "unbiased conclusion" according to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and blocked interviews with its soldiers or victims of rocket attacks. The mission is further imperilled by the lack of an effective court system in Gaza and the dominance of Hamas security forces who might intimidate potential witnesses. Despite these difficulties, Goldstone hoped his report would lead to further action by other UN departments.
Violence flared in Gaza again today, with reports of a brief incursion by Israeli military forces and bulldozers into the southern Gaza Strip and two Palestinian vessels coming under fire from the Israeli navy. In a separate incident, four militants carrying explosives were killed at a Gazan border crossing yesterday by Israel security forces.
North Korea warns of "merciless offensive" if provoked
North Korea promised a "merciless offensive", including nuclear war, against any encroachment on the country's "dignity and sovereignty". The stark warning, made in the country's state-run media, is likely to refer to any proposed countermeasures to its successful nuclear weapons test on 25 May.
Relations with its southern neighbour have further deteriorated since the test, with a South Korean firm deserting one remaining economic cooperative project seen as a beacon of reconciliation between the two countries. Meanwhile, the North has provoked further ire from the US after sentencing two American journalists, who were detained after crossing into North Korean territory, to twelve years hard labour. Members of the Obama administration appealed for their release on "humanitarian grounds" and denied the case had any political connection.
North Korea provoked international outrage yesterday by testing its second nuclear bomb. Seismic tremors confirmed the nation's claims to have successfully tested an underground device as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. With little indication that the country was attempting to soften the diplomatic fallout of its nuclear test, North Korea today test fired two short range missiles raising the possibility of a complete nuclear weapons capacity in the near future.
The toD verdict: Despite their obvious international security implications, it has been plausibly suggested that North Korea's missile and nuclear tests are more concerned to secure Kim Jong Il's personal authority following a reported stroke and the looming question of succession. Peter Beck, a Korean specialist at the American University in Washington claims that the "internal domestic dynamic is taking precedence over external factors".
Given these complications, how then is the world to respond? North Korea's test clearly violated UN Security Council Resolution 1718 which followed its first test in October 2006, a point reiterated at the UN Conference on Disarmament convened today. Japan and South Korea, among other nations, condemned the attack, the latter calling for "clear and strong message" to be sent to Pyongyang. The strength and contents of the message remain unclear despite the UN Security Council unequivocally and unanimously condemning the test last night. Russia and China, although having distanced themselves from Pyongyang in recent years, are unlikely to support extreme additional sanctions. North Korea relies on little more from the more hostile West than food and fuel aid for its impoverished population, aid which on humanitarian grounds it would be impossible to withdraw, and the UN may be forced to continue its dependence on meaningless measures such as embargoes on the whisky said to be enjoyed by North Korean party cadres.
If analysts such as Beck are correct and Korea's accumulating arsenal is just for show, containment rather than confrontation may prove the best option. Since its neighbours are either nuclear powers (China and Russia) or firmly within the US nuclear umbrella (Japan and South Korea) there is little risk of North Korean nuclearisation provoking a domino effect in the region. Having strained China's support, North Korea, although willing to take on the world on the diplomatic stage, is unlikely to do so militarily. The most serious threat posed by the tests is the possibility of the black-market sale of nuclear technologies to other nations or groups, a danger underlined by the past activities of Pakistani nuclear physicist AQ Khan from whom it is thought North Korea originally acquired its own nuclear technology.
Darfur battle leaves 63 dead
A Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attack on a Sudanese military base near the Chadian border left 43 rebels and 20 soldiers dead according to army statements. The success of the attack is disputed, with UN observers claims that the rebels had captured the base conflicting with government reports that it remained under military control. Over 400 people took refuge at a UN base during this latest instalment of an ongoing conflict that has displaced two million and claimed 300,000 lives. If UN reports prove correct, it would be the second JEM capture of a military base near the Chadian border in recent days. Khartoum blames the strength of the rebels in these borderlands on covert support from the Chadian government, who in turn have levelled accusations that Sudan supports rebels operating within its own territory.
Violence spreads across Punjab following spiritual leader's assassination
Rioters in the western Indian state of Punjab vented their anger on trains and public buildings yesterday after Sant Rama Nand, a fringe Sikh religious leader, was shot dead in an attack during a visit to a Sikh temple in Austria. Soldiers and armed police were deployed to disperse the rioters, at least one of whom was shot dead by security forces during an attack on a police station. Nand was a leading figure in the Dera Sach Khand, a minority Sikh sect with a largely Dalit following, the low caste formerly known as "untouchables". The sects increasing assertiveness has angered mainstream Jat Sikh community who accuse them of the misuse of holy texts. Manmohan Singh, India's first Sikh Prime Minister, called for the restoration of "peace and harmony" between the two communities.
Sri Lanka war crimes investigation splits UN
A divided UN Human Rights Council convened today to discuss the controversial possibility of a war crimes investigation into the recent Sri Lankan conflict. India, China and Russia appear likely to uphold the sovereignty of the island nation against European led calls for an investigation into crimes on both sides of the civil war. In spite of the fierce opposition aroused, the motion has been derided as not going far enough by human rights groups since it proposed a Sri Lankan-led, rather than independent, investigation. Yesterday's preliminary hearing found the 47-seat council split evenly with eighteen nations for and eighteen against the motion while nine remained undecided. The divisions, which trace a geographic fault-line between west and east, have permitted Colombo's UN representative Dayan Jayatilleka to blame interference on the mentality of "former colonisers".
Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, the government have rejected further compromise solutions to the conflict. The defeated LTTE raised the prospect of becoming an unarmed democratic party but Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa claimed that "after years of their violent activities" such a transformation was impossible. Continuing their commitment to a military solution to the conflict, the government announced plans to enlist at least 100,000 extra soldiers to guard against any Tamil militant resurgence.
Swat campaign risks humanitarian disaster
The NGO Human Rights Watch has warned of a pending "humanitarian catastrophe" if the Pakistani Army occupying the Swat Valley does not begin airdrops of food, water and medicine while lifting the curfew currently imposed in the region. Despite army orders to evacuate and the successful flight of around two million people, approximately 200,000 remain trapped in the war zone. Allegations of civilian mistreatment have been levelled at both the Taliban and the army, the former accused of detaining civilians for use as human shields while the latter has come under fire for artillery and aerial bombardment of residential areas.
Abbas presses Obama for settlements clampdown
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will demand Obama pressures Israel to "fully halt settlement activities" when the two statesmen meet on Thursday, a Palestinian Authority spokesman indicated. At Obama's first meeting with Netanyahu ten days ago disagreement on the issue of a two state solution and settlements was obvious; Obama's demand that "settlements have to be stopped" went unanswered with Netanyahu's public statements making no mention of the issue. Reports have since indicated however that Netanyahu would be willing to remove two dozen outposts, the small settlement units deepest inside the West Bank, in a potential deal with the US when Defence Minister Ehud Barak travels to Washington next week.
Abbas's close ally and his chief negotiator with Israel Ahmed Qureia raised the possibility of Israeli settlers receiving Palestinian citizenship as a way out of the deadlock. Such a radical proposal is unlikely to make much headway.
France opens first military base in Gulf
Sarkozy travelled to Abu Dhabi today to commission the opening of France's first military base in the Gulf region. The base, or "peace camp" as it is officially termed, will house around 500 French troops, an air strip and training camp. The choice of the United Arab Emirates appeals not only for its strategic location, in close proximity to the Straits of Hormuz and Iran, but follows a strengthening of relations between the two countries signalled by French contracts to construct two nuclear power stations in the oil-rich state and the sale of French Mirage fighter jets and tanks to the Emirates' armed forces. Sarkozy told UAE news media he wanted France to "shoulder its responsibilities" in the Gulf, a possible reference to a desire to complement or even rival British and American dominance in the region. France will however have to expand significantly its presence if it is to match the US which has numerous bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
US president Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since either took office yesterday in Washington. They discussed the middle east peace process and security in the region, but in subsequent public statements there was little sign of a major breakthrough.
The toD verdict: The talks seem to have fundamentally failed to reinvigorate what Obama called the "stalled" progress in the middle eastern peace process. Throughout their public meeting, the two statesmen were seemingly at cross-purposes. While Obama again called for a two state solution, Netanyahu only expressed a desire to "start peace negotiations with the Palestinians" and for Palestinians to "govern themselves", continuing his aversion to the words "Palestinian state". Obama's demands that "settlements have to be stopped" also went unanswered and there was little sign that Netanyahu's Israel would take the "difficult steps" the US claims are necessary.
Accordingly, the talks were coldly received by Palestinian parties. A Hamas spokesman decried Obama's apparently tough call for Israel to halt settlement expansion and commit to a two state solution as an attempt "to deceive the world". Statements by Fatah negotiator Saeb Erekat were predictably less confrontational but equally pessimistic, arguing Israeli policy made impossible a fully functioning Palestinian state.
If the talks heralded a single breakthrough it was Obama's indication that he was setting a deadline of the end of the year for talks with Iran. To date, and much to the annoyance of hawks at home and in Israel, Obama has not imposed strict conditions or a time-limit on his offer to negotiate with Iran. By propelling the Iranian threat to the forefront of the US-Israeli relationship, the Nethanyu government may succeed in deflecting criticism of its policies in the occupied territories. Defence Minister Ehud Barak was accordingly critical of calls for a two state solution, which he said would not stop Iran.
Government and Tamil Tigers dispute LTTE leader's death
Following their proclamation of victory in a decades-long civil war yesterday, Sri Lankan forces have broadcast video footage they claim shows the corpse of Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in an attempt to end disputed claims as to whether he was in fact killed. A Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, said the authorities were "100 percent positive" it was Prabhakaran. However the LTTE's diplomatic representative Selvarasa Pathmanathan had earlier claimed that their "beloved leader is alive and safe".
The news of the LTTE's defeat was met with protest in London where around 5,000 protestors broke out from the centre of Parliament Square and disrupted traffic on the busy junction. Three police and five protestors were hospitalised during violent clashes, which saw ten protestors arrested.
Pakistani forces close on Taliban Swat capital
The Pakistani army has made further advances into Taliban controlled regions of the Swat Valley. Street battles raged in the towns of Matta and Kanju, the latter only miles away from the Taliban stronghold of Mingora, the principal city in the region. General Nadeem Ahmed, head of the government's refugee Support Group, optimistically predicted the return of some of the 1,400,000 people displaced by the conflict.
Human Rights Watch criticised Taliban tactics in their defence of the city, accusing them of laying landmines to prevent the escape of around 10,000 civilians in Mingora in an attempt to deter army raids on the city. The NGO also accused the Pakistani government, who claim they will not use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, of taking "insufficient precautionary measures" to prevent the loss of civilian life during recent operations.
ICC begins trial of Sudanese rebel leader
Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a Sudanese rebel leader who turned himself in to the International Criminal Court, appeared at The Hague on war crimes charges relating to the killing of twelve African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. He is the first suspect from the Darfur conflict to be tried by the court, and used his appearance to increase pressure on Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to also face trial. Since the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in April, Bashir, charged with genocide and war crimes, has defiantly flouted the ruling.
Military offensive escalates in Niger Delta
The Nigerian Joint Task Force, at war with militants in the country's oil rich delta region, claimed to have overrun an important Iroko militant camp. Rebel groups meanwhile argued this was only part of a "cat and mouse" game with the army, which had indiscriminately targeted civilians from the Delta's indigenous Ijaw people. The army faced criticism from the Ijaw National Congress for the alleged killing of 1,000 civilians during its campaigns to free oil workers taken hostage by the militants. The Director of Defence Information Colonel Chris Jemitola denied the accusations and defended the necessity of the operations against militants who targeted "innocent civilians". Recent unrest in the Delta helped push crude oil prices up five per cent on the New York exchange on Monday.
Officials discuss anti-piracy strategy
A two day conference in Kuala Lumpur has brought together notable military and diplomatic figures to help combat the scourge of piracy. French national security advisor Captain Christophe Pipolo called for an economic stimulus to rejeuvenate Somalia's fishing industry and thus provide alternative incomes to piracy. Echoing Pipolo's warning that the "answer is neither at sea nor military but on land", Captain Christopher Chambers, the director of the international Combined Maritime Forces, reiterated the necessity of a "stable Somalia". Further proposals issued at the conference centred on investing in Somali security forces to help build a robust coast guard and land-based police force.
Ethiopian troops re-enter Somalia as Islamists close on capital
Claims that Ethiopian forces are re-entering Somalia two years after their departure under a UN ceasefire have emerged from the country's borderlands. While the Addis Ababa government upheld their right to carry out operations on Somali territory, communications minister Ermias Legesse denied Ethiopian troops had crossed the border.
If verified, the incursion suggests Ethiopia might be planning to bolster Somali government forces and help secure Mogadishu from an escalating Islamist offensive. Hizbul Islam fighters seized the town of Mahady on Monday after the government lost control of the town of Jowhar to the militant group Al-Shabab on Sunday.
With renewed fighting comes the prospect of the flight of many more refugees from the country. Over 270,000 Somalis are already inadequately provided for in refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya, a situation decried by Medicins Sans Frontiers representatives in the country as "scandalous".
King Abdullah of Jordan predicted war within eighteen months if peace efforts in the middle east are obstructed. An American-Jordanian peace offensive reaches its apogee in coming weeks, the most crucial element being US President Barack Obama's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu next Tuesday. Jordan and the US joined diplomatic forces in the region after Abdullah met with Obama in Washington last month. Their efforts aim for a general peace conference, at which Israel will normalise its relations with all its Arab neighbours, with some of whom it remains in an official state of war, in return for territorial and political concessions.
The toD verdict: On 4 June Obama will address the Muslim world in a landmark broadcast. Current American efforts will determine whether it will be hailed as a victory speech or derided as one of many hollow appeals for peace the region.
The UN added its voice to the chorus of peace calls, with Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urging Israel "to fundamentally change its polices" on settlements in the West Bank. The demands follow increased exposure of Israeli housing policy, particularly in East Jerusalem, where Israel is accused of deliberately manipulating regulation and planning laws at the expense of Palestinian residents. Pressure from the UN, however, is a far more familiar element in the middle east peace process and one which Israel and Arab states have had little compunction in ignoring in the past.
Attention will now turn to the recently elected Nethanyahu government, with a backlog of hardline pronouncements on Israeli security, for any indication of its willingness to talk. Nethanyahu recently vowed to the Knesset that he would not relinquish Israeli control of the Golan heights, captured from Syria in 1967, and a critical bargaining point in any peace between the two nations. On an international stage, however, Nethanyu appears more conciliatory. At meetings with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak he expressed his desire to "resume peace talks between us and the Palestinians", but as yet he has refused to endorse the two state solution which has been the basis of prior negotiations.
US soldier kills five comrades outside Iraq counselling clinic
A US soldier opened fire on fellow troops after a dispute with staff at a military base's counselling centre in Iraq, killing five before being taken into custody. Monday's shooting was the sixth such attack since the 2003 invasion, in which a total of nine US soldiers have been deliberately killed by their comrades.
The shooting highlights the dangers of psychological stress in a combat environment. Up to one in five US soldiers is reported to be suffering from post traumatic stress in Iraq, with two-thirds reluctant to seek help for fear it will set back their military careers. There are an estimated five attempted suicides per day among US forces in Iraq.
Hundreds killed as Somali government denies collusion with Islamist insurgents
The Somali government denied reports that poorly paid soldiers had been selling military hardware to Islamic insurgents, their official enemies. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed blamed radical Islamists for the recent resurgence of violence in Mogadishu, who he claimed were the agents of foreign countries. Violence spread across the war-worn capital over the weekend. Seventeen-thousand people have fled the fighting, while three hundred of those who could not escape were wounded and over 120 killed.
Pakistan captures Taliban stronghold
Pakistani military spokesmen claimed a series of victories for government forces in the ongoing battle for the Swat Valley. Special forces heli-dropped behind Taliban lines, capturing the rear-base of Maulana Fazlullah, a militant cleric, and his retinue of 4,000 fighters. Interior Minister Rehman Malik was pleased by government successes, hoping that "the operations will be completed very soon". His hopes can only be shared by the estimated 360,000 people forced to flee recent fighting in the Swat Valley. Aid agencies and members of parliament have criticised army actions and the government's provision for displaced civilians. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watched warned Pakistan that the Taliban's exploitation of innocents was "not a blank cheque for the Pakistani Army".
Afghans hope for fresh start with new US commander
Controversial US tactics in Afghanistan maybe set to change with the dismissal of NATO's Afghan theatre commander General David McKiernan halfway through his tenure of command. McKiernan had pressed for an extra 30,000 troops for the next 12 months in Afghanistan, only a third of which were promised by the Obama administration. The radical move is said to be the first US dismissal of a general from a combat theatre since Douglas MacArthur's outspoken campaign to nuke China during the Korean War. Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced his replacement as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who earned his stars in American Special Forces and received personal praise from former president George W Bush. McChrystal's reputation however was tarnished by Senate scrutiny of alleged mistreatment of prisoners by units under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While some speculated that the shake-up was a response to criticism of last week's deadly Farah airstrikes, the Defence Department claimed the move had been planned weeks before. Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned on Sunday that NATO risked losing "the moral war" with the Taliban if air strikes were not reigned in but US security advisor General James L Jones and Gates both defended US commanders' freedom of action in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Taliban fighters staged an audacious raid on government buildings in southern Afghanistan, underpinning the need to reinvigorate the NATO-Afghan counterinsurgency. Four suicide bombers struck in the town of Khost, killing four Afghan soldiers and two bystanders in an attempt to storm the town governor's headquarters. It is the latest attack in what has been the deadliest year so far for coalition forces in the country.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai met US president Barack Obama and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari today, voicing angry protest at the "unjustifiable and unacceptable" US airstrike in Farah province suspected to have killed over 100 people, mostly civilians. In Farah itself, shots were fired and the government offices stoned, wounding several people including local officials. In the Swat Valley neighbouring Afghanistan, meanwhile, Pakistan's own airforce has provoked criticism and fears of a major humanitarian disaster following continued bombing raids.
The toD verdict: Since its inception, the use of airpower for ground assault has divided opinion on its political and military effectiveness. This latest phase in its application, to the so-called "Af-Pak war" with Taliban and other militants, has done little to allay the controversy.
The attacks at Farah are only the latest and grandest in a series of US airstrikes which the UN estimated to have caused the vast majority of the 828 civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in 2008. US military representatives claimed the attack was ordered by Afghani forces and vetted by their command, but an on-the-spot enquiry was launched and Secretary of State Clinton announced that US officials "deeply regret" civilian deaths.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, which had also criticised US use of airstrikes, has employed similar tactics on a huge scale. Thousands of people fled the Swat Valley after army ground operations were joined by air-raids after the local truce with Islamist militants in the region brokedown on Wednesday. Aid agencies fear that up to 800,000 people, half the Swat population, may be forced to flee the region, numbers sufficient to prompt a humanitarian crisis and induce further strains on the country's fragile economy. The UN High Commission on Refugees has already begun dispatching aid to the region and cooperated with Pakistani authorities in establishing camps for those escaping the fighting.
The greatest fallout of the airstrikes however may be political; the Taliban will try to capitalise on any impression that Zardari has bowed to US pressure. Civilian suffering at government hands may increase sympathy for the insurgents.
Presidents Karzai and Zardari are trapped between pressure from the US and domestic public opinion. Their survival in office depends on a dangerous tightrope walk, faced with either losing crucial US military support against enemies of their regimes and alienating popular opinion and empowering violent opposition. Despite US claims that meetings in Washington today were a success and that the parties had "reaffirmed their commitment" to a common plan, these fundamental tensions seem inescapable without a radical change in the tactics of the Af-Pak counter-insurgency.
BBC video below:
Israeli army and Palestinian militants exchange fire
Sporadic violence broke out today in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli air force wounded four people in strikes on smuggling tunnels in the Gaza strip after mortar bombs launched from Gaza struck a field in Israel. Meanwhile, in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit, an Israeli soldier was killed in a raid, possibly in a friendly fire incident. In Israel itself, a Palestinian was shot dead approaching a shrine holy to both Muslims and Jews in Hebron. Israeli military police claimed he had defied orders to halt and evaded a checkpoint but they could not report whether he was armed.
Israeli military measures have been subject to UN criticism in recent days, blaming its occupation for economic stagnation and restrictions to Palestinian freedom of movement in and around Bethlehem, and criticising attacks on UN buildings during Israeli operations in Gaza last December.
US will not waver, Arab allies told
US defence secretary Robert Gates visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia in recent days to reassure the longstanding allies that detente with Iran will not damage either nation's privileged partnership with the US. Gates dismissed the idea of a comprehensive settlement with Iran as "very remote", but the Gulf Cooperation Council still found it necessary to plead that US peace feelers "will not come at our expense". Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are particularly anxious at the prospect of increased Iranian power, fearing the possibility of Iranian-instigated subversion among their Shia populations as well as Iran's more traditional military threat.
Attempts to improve Russia-US relations founder on Georgian rocks
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov meets US president Barack Obama today in attempt to patch up the countries' frayed relations, but in Georgia a proxy conflict still smoulders. Today a scheduled meeting between Georgia and representatives of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was cancelled. Yesterday, Russia and NATO engaged in tit-for-tat measures with the expulsion of two NATO diplomats from Moscow and two Russians from NATO HQ in Brussels. On Tuesday Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili triumphantly claimed to have crushed an allegedly Russian-backed army mutiny, dispatching a tank regiment to a military base twenty miles east of Tbilisi.
Last night, the US-supported government was again on the defensive as opposition groups mounted a violent protest outside a police station in the capital in which dozens of protestors and six police officers were wounded. Around 3,000 opponents of the government later reconvened in parliament square, protesting at the continued detention of three fellow activists. The actions coincide with controversial NATO military exercises held in the country, which Russia had denounced as an unnecessary provocation.
Rare US critique of Israeli nuclear capacity
Rose Gottemoeller, an Assistant Secretary of State and the US's chief nuclear negotiator, included Israel in roll-call of states whose adherence to the Non Proliferation Treaty is "a fundamental objective of the United States". The speech breaks with traditional ambiguity from both sides in the Israeli-US partnership. Shimon Peres meanwhile stoked fears of a pre-emptive Israeli strike if Iran defies its commitment to the NPT. Speaking to Jewish leaders in New York, he promised not to "cross out any other options" should talks fail to halt Iranian nuclear activity.
Government intensifies public relations offensive in Sri Lanka conflict
The Sri Lankan military posted a video on its website today purporting to show Tamil fighters in civilian dress forcing civilians to help in their war-effort. Independent reporting from the war zone is hampered by the barring of journalists from areas of intense fighting. The posting seems to be an attempt to deflect criticism for heavy civilian casualties, estimated at 6,500 in the last three months alone. The government has come under international fire for the alleged artillery bombardments of civilian safe-zones, with the most recent demands for an immediate ceasefire coming from the UN, a request so far ignored. Trading in accusations and recriminations has done little to help the estimated 200,000 people displaced by the conflict.Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
Gordon Brown is in Pakistan today amid expanding military operations against Taliban-controlled areas of the country, which somewhat fulfill his claim that the region is the "crucible of terrorism". Despite rumours that President Asif Ali Zardari snubbed the British Prime Minister by delegating today's press conference to his premier Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, both emphasised unity in the face of a common threat. Brown pledged £10 million in military aid and training for Pakistani forces and highlighted the security concerns arising from Britain's large Pakistani population.
The toD verdict: Brown's arrival in Pakistan could hardly have been better timed, as a major confrontation intensifies between government and Taliban forces. Pakistan escalated its offensive today launching air strikes against suspected hideouts in the Buner district that killed over 70 people while heavy fighting in Lower Dir caused 30,000 people to flee their homes. Although military officials claimed operations were enforcing breaches in its peace treaty with Pakistani Taliban, there is an obvious danger that fighting will spread and develop into an all-out civil war. A spokesman for the militant group Tehrik-e-Nifaaz Shariat Muhammadi, which suspended peace negotiations yesterday in protest, warned of a "storm" across Pakistan if the government did not halt its offensive.
While the action has been welcomed in many quarters in Britain and answers continued US calls for tougher domestic policy, Pakistan may find itself facing criticism akin to accusations it levelled against the US for its repeated aerial assaults against suspected Taliban targets in the northwestern border regions. Pakistan may, instead of pacifying its frontiers, embroil itself in a heightened conflict while losing the vital support of the population among which the Taliban militia operate. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
Three killed in Turkish police raids across Istanbul
Sixty separate raids against radical leftist and Islamist groups conducted across Istanbul last night left one militant, a senior police officer and a 16-year-old bystander dead. The casualties occurred as one police raid against Revolutionary Headquarters, a far-left organisation, degenerated into a six-hour-long firefight. Turkish media criticised the operations for a lack of preparation and for delays in cordoning off or evacuating the surrounding area, resulting in the shooting of a TV journalist who strayed too close to the fighting. Seven police officers were also injured in the raid, which marks the latest instalment in a violent struggle with the Turkish left going back to the foundation of the modern state in 1922.
Hospital patients fall victim to Fatah-Hamas rivalry
Gazans with serious illnesses are some of the most recent victims of rivalry between Hamas and Fatah. The West Bank's Fatah government have withheld funds from a medical referral committee since it was taken over by Hamas officials on 22 March. The committee was responsible for arranging medical treatment abroad for sick Gazans, and its suspension has so far resulted in the death of eight Palestinians awaiting treatment in Israel and Egypt and the continued suffering of the approximate 1,000 patients referred abroad every month.
An Egyptian crackdown on smuggling into the Gaza strip has placed further strain on the war-torn territory. Reuters' sources estimate that up to 4/5 of crossborder activity has been curtailed since Israeli operations in Gaza began in December 2008 and shortages of consumer and goods and fuel are now reported.
Gaza's economic and physical health now depends on ongoing unity talks between Fatah and Hamas which were resumed in Cairo on Monday. Mushir el-Masri, a senior Hamas official, indicated in a press statement today that Hamas would "listen carefully to all suggestions and ideas that might end the current rift". Meanwhile, the US appeared to be sending mixed messages regarding the possibility of a unity government. Secretary of State Clinton promised on Thursday that no "entity controlled by Hamas" would receive US aid just as the Obama administration proposed legal changes to Congress which conditionally permit the distribution of aid in the event of a coalition government.
Aid workers released by Somali captors
A Belgian doctor and Dutch nurse working for Medecins Sans Frontiers were released on Tuesday after nine days in the captivity of Somali gunmen. Their captors are thought to be local residents, unaffiliated with the Islamist al-Shabab group that controls the area where they were captured and ordered their unconditional release. The incident confirms Somalia's place as one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian work, with 35 aid workers killed in 2008 and 26 abducted. Nevertheless, the country remains in desperate need of support, with half the population thought to require food-aid.
Tide turns against Somali pirates
Yemeni special forces yesterday succeeded in retaking a hijacked oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, capturing nine pirates and killing three others. Yemeni raids successfully recaptured two further vessels in a series of rare victories against piracy in the region. In a separate incident, pirates who launched a failed bid to capture an Italian cruiseship were fought-off by private security guards before being captured by a Spanish war ship and detained on the Seychelles islands.
Snub to Swedish foreign minister provokes EU diplomatic clash with Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan government prevented Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt from joining his British and French counterparts in a peace mission to the conflict stricken country. The mission signalled growing international pressure for a ceasefire, supported by the UN and EU since Monday. Europe has protested angrily at the measures, which were labelled "lamentable" by the Foreign Minister of Czech Republic, currently holding the EU presidency. Sweden has a long history of brokership in international conflict and helped monitor the now lapsed ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tigers from 2002 to 2006. The nation has withdrawn its ambassador from Colombo in response to the diplomatic affront.
Dick Cheney today entered the political fray over the US use of torture, demanding the CIA release classified information proving the "success" of interrogation techniques, which, he claimed, yielded "good" intelligence. These demands follow President Barack Obama's declassification of memos proving Bush administration approval of several methods, including waterboarding, which it did not classify as illegal torture because it was not "cruel, inhuman or degrading", a release Cheney has condemned as partial and "disturbing". Recent revelations have unearthed that one suspect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to waterboarding 183 times and another, Abu Zubayadah, 83 times.
The toD verdict: Obama attempted to minimise controversy and put the American debate on the use of torture behind him, offering concessions such as granting amnesty to CIA operatives and refusing moves to prosecute members of the previous administration, but these efforts now seem certain to fail. Obama wanted to "acknowledge" mistakes and then "move forward", he reassured the CIA during a visit yesterday.
Republicans meanwhile seem likely to continue playing the patriot card. The claim that Democrats and other left-leaning Americans are unpatriotic and do not stand behind the country's armed forces and intelligence services is age-old. Cheney continued the tradition, calling on Obama "to stand up and aggressively defend America's interests". They may find further ammunition should the release of information lead to foreign moves to prosecute US nationals or bring further intelligence to light on the issue, a development which would seemingly set in opposition US interests and outside pressure, which Obama may be accused of kick-starting.
The White House clearly foresaw the potential of a Republican backlash, but its measures to allay the fears of the American right, such as the call for "reflection, not retribution", have provoked accusations of a whitewash from many of the president's supporters on the left. Thankfully, however, it seems that no matter what the future intensity of the debate in the US, the country will discontinue the abhorrent practice of torture.
Dozens killed as vigilantes tackle Kenyan mafia
Vigilante groups armed with machetes, stones, axes and clubs killed over 24 people in pursuit of the Mungiki religious sect across central Kenya last night. The Mungiki, a religious turned criminal organisation, was banned in 2002 for extortion and its own brand of rough justice; a series of beheadings that prompted a police crackdown now taken into public hands. The night of violence follows days of vigilante action in the region during which one hundred alleged Mungiki members have been publically lynched. Three students and an 83-year-old man were among the victims of the man-hunt which vigilantes claim is endorsed by local police.
South and North unite for Korean talks
South Korean envoys arrived in North Korea today for the first formal talks after President Lee Myung-bak took office over a year ago with the promise of a hard-line stance against North Korea. Since then, the situation in the region has deteriorated considerably, particularly with the internationally-condemned launch of a test missile by North Korea on 5 April. The two delegations were due to meet at Gaeseong industrial plant, a rare cooperative project between North and South and one threatened by worsening relations. The delegates, however, were forced to postpone negotiations following a dispute over where to convene the meeting, an indication of the far greater uneasiness these talks intend to allay.
Victory for Turkish nationalists threatens Cypriot reunification
The victory of the hard-line National Unity Party in Northern Cyprus polls on Sunday has upset recent progress towards the reunification of the divided island. The party's leader Dervis Eroglu, said that a unified Cyprus should not be the North's only goal. Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan today warned the new government against breaking off or changing the terms of the ongoing reunification talks, which were in turn precipitated by the victory of the Communist Greek Cypriot president Demetris Christofias last year.
Russia threatens walkout of NATO talks
Russia's relations with the west are again under strain over Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The Russian-backed South Ossetian authority today detained two of the twenty OSCE monitors patrolling the Georgian side of the border for a "provocative" and illegal incursion into South Ossetian territory, it claimed. After several hours the pair were released. A similar incident occurred last February during which two monitors were also captured and later released.
The tensions parallel developments on the international stage where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday condemned NATO's "dangerous decision" to hold military exercises in Georgia next month. Russia escalated their protests yesterday threatening to call off a forthcoming summit of senior military figures if NATO did not adequately respond to Russia's objections.
China revives gunboat diplomacy
The Chinese Navy's deputy in command, Vice Adm. Ding Yiping, promised to reveal the nation's latest sea-borne military hardware on Thursday as part of the fleet's 60th anniversary celebrations. The newly unveiled vessels will include its latest generation of nuclear submarines, so far hidden from public view, and possibly newly acquired aircraft carriers, all of which are feared to be part of a Chinese bid for technical parity with the US and Russia. China disputes the control of several islands, not least Taiwan, in neighbouring waters and has clashed on the issue with the Philipinnes, Vietnam and Japan. The admiralty and Chinese state media have, however, stressed international cooperation as China's goal, highlighting its recent contribution to policing the Somali coast.Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
This week's editor
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50