While there may have been a verbal attempt by the Obama administration to diffuse Syrian tensions in the aftermath of Thursday’s shocker out of the House of Commons, the action on the ground so far is hardly conciliatory. Or rather water, because a sixth US warship has now anchored in proximity to Syria, joining the recently arrived fifth destroyer USS Stout, which joined the warships already “breathing down Assad’s neck.” From AP: “Five U.S. Navy destroyers – the USS Gravely, USS Mahan, USS Barry, the USS Stout and USS Ramage – are in the eastern Mediterranean Sea waiting for the order to launch. And the USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship has now joined them. The USS San Antonio, which is carrying helicopters and can carry up to 800 Marines, has no cruise missiles, so it is not expected to participate in the attack. Instead, the ship’s long-planned transit across the Mediterranean was interrupted so that it could remain in the area to help if needed.” So in addition to a cruise missile based force, the US is now bringing in the marines? The justification that they are there “just in case” seems a little shallow in context.
Not surprisingly this contradicts what Obama said yesterday, promising there would be no land-based invasion.
Elsewhere, Russia predictable once again warned against a US escalation. Russia Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul today, Foreign Ministry says in e-mailed statement. Ryabkov summarized: any use of force by U.S. against Syria without UN sanctions would be an “act of aggression, crude violation of the norms of international law.” Whether this means an immediate retaliation by Russia is unknown.
What is known is that the UN inspectors who were supposedly the only gating issue for a full-blown US “surgical strike” have now left the country. Per Reuters, the team of United Nations inspectors that was investigating the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria arrived at Beirut International Airport on Saturday, a Reuters witness said. The team had crossed the land border from Syria into Lebanon earlier in the day after completing its four-day investigation.
However, anyone expecting a quick turnover from the UN force will be disappointed. Accoridng to NBC, the U.N. said Friday that the team had finished collecting samples from the site of the alleged attack but that a complete analysis would take time. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the five permanent Security Council members that it may be two weeks before final results are ready, diplomats said.
In other words, the “surgial strike” options are now fully open and Obama may strike at any minute, and of course reap the consequences.
Those still unclear how a typical strike would look like, here is another completet rundown from the AP:
The order for the strike would come from Obama, delivered to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The operation probably would fall under the purview of U.S. Central Command, headed by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. The more immediate commander probably would be Adm. Bruce Clingan, who heads U.S. naval forces in Europe.
U.S. commanders would communicate and coordinate with military officers from other nations involved in the fight, such as France.
WHO LAUNCHES WHAT
Five U.S. Navy destroyers – the USS Gravely, USS Mahan, USS Barry, the USS Stout and USS Ramage – are in the eastern Mediterranean Sea waiting for the order to launch. And the USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship has now joined them. The USS San Antonio, which is carrying helicopters and Marines, has no cruise missiles, so it is not expected to participate in the attack. Instead, the ship’s long-planned transit across the Mediterranean was interrupted so that it could remain in the area to help if needed.
The destroyers are armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range of about 1,000 nautical miles and are used for deep, precise targeting. Each one is about 20 feet long and less than two feet in diameter and carries a 1,000 pound warhead.
The missiles fly at low altitudes, and their range allows the ships to sit far off the coast, out of range of any potential response by the Syrian government. Some ships have cameras that can provide battle damage assessments.
The Navy also now has two aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea that are loaded with fighter jets. The USS Truman arrived in the region to take the place of the USS Nimitz, which was supposed to head home. But the Navy ordered the Nimitz to stay for now.
U.S. officials described the decision as prudent planning and said it doesn’t suggest the Nimitz would play a role in any possible strikes in Syria.
With Britain on the sidelines, France has said it is preparing for military action against Syria. French President Francois Hollande does not need parliamentary approval to launch a military operation that lasts less than four months.
French military officials confirmed the frigate Chevalier Paul, which specializes in anti-missile capabilities, as well as the hulking transport ship Dixmude, had set off Thursday from the Mediterranean port of Toulon as part of normal training and operational preparations – but denied any link to possible Syria operations.
France also has a dozen cruise missile-capable fighter aircraft at military bases in the United Arab Emirates and the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, as well as fighters that could launch from air bases in the French island of Corsica or western France.
HOW DO THE NATIONS COORDINATE?
Details are unknown about how the mission strikes are being allocated or if the U.S. and France have mapped out separate, agreed upon target lists. But the U.S. routinely conducts exercises with allies, particularly NATO countries such as Britain and France, in which they all practice exactly this type of joint attack mission.
Commanders have a wide variety of ways they can talk to each other, including through integrated communications systems honed over many years of NATO operations ranging from the Afghanistan war to the 2011 attack on Libya and the fighting in Algeria and Mali early this year.
The military officers can speak or email across classified, secure lines and even have systems that allow them to talk in real time in Internet chat rooms. The nations also often have military liaisons embedded with each other to help assist communications.
Because any operation is expected to be limited, there likely won’t be more organized, formal war rooms.
WHAT ABOUT TROOPS, FIGHTER JETS AND BOMBERS?
Obama has ruled out putting troops on the ground in Syria, and because of Assad’s extensive air defense systems, officials believe it is too risky, at least initially, to deploy fighter aircraft or even low-flying drones that could be shot down.
While less likely, the U.S. could deploy fighter jets or bombers as the operation continues, particularly if the Assad regime begins to take retaliatory actions and manned aircraft are needed in order to strike specific, critical targets.
Obama has rejected trying to impose a “no-fly” zone over the country. Military leaders have said that creating one would be risky and expensive.
WHAT MIGHT THEY TARGET?
U.S. officials say any operation must have clear goals that can guide decisions on what the military must strike.
Dempsey has told Congress that lethal force would be used “to strike targets that enable the regime to conduct military operations, proliferate advanced weapons and defend itself.”
At a minimum, Western forces are expected to strike targets that symbolize Assad’s military and political might: military and national police headquarters, including the Defense Ministry; the Syrian military’s general staff; and the four-brigade Republican Guard that is in charge of protecting Damascus, Assad’s seat of power. Assad’s ruling Baath Party headquarters could be targeted, too.
U.S. officials also are considering attacking military command centers and vital forces, communications hubs and weapons caches, including ballistic missile batteries.
Air defense systems, including Syrian aircraft, interception missiles, radar and other equipment, also could be targets. The majority of those systems – as many as 500 defense positions and 400 operational aircraft – have been positioned along Lebanon’s border, in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, along the Syrian Mediterranean coast and in and around Damascus.
Helicopter and fixed wing aircraft air bases across the country, including the Mezzeh air base in Damascus, and Nairab, a major military air base in Aleppo, could be targets.
Because any strike would be considered payback for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Western forces could zero in on the headquarters of the Syrian Army’s 4th Division, 155th Brigade. That unit is believed to have been responsible for the Aug. 21 attack that U.S. officials say involved chemical weapons. The brigade is headed by Maher Assad, Bashar Assad’s younger brother.
The brigade has a missile base across a large terrain in a mountain range west of Damascus, including underground bunkers and tunnels. It is believed to be surrounded by army bases as well as weapons and ammunition storage sites.
Systems for moving Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile could be top targets as well. But the stockpile itself probably would not be hit because of risk of accidental release of deadly nerve agents that include mustard gas, tabun, sarin and VX.
WHAT PROBABLY WOULD BE AVOIDED?
It’s doubtful the U.S. would directly target Assad. U.S. policy prohibits assassinating foreign leaders unless they have attacked America first.
It’s also unclear if Assad’s military intelligence headquarters, a symbolic target, might be attacked; it’s believed to hold hundreds of prisoners.
WHEN MIGHT A STRIKE COME AND HOW LONG MIGHT AN ATTACK LAST?
The most common answer to this question in recent days has been “soon.” But a number of factors could affect the timing.
U.N. inspectors wrapped up their investigation into the suspected chemical attack and left Syria on Saturday. And officials say they are still talking to allies.
There has been a so-far unsuccessful effort to seek U.N. Security Council approval for a strike, but there is also significant pressure on the administration to act quickly and decisively.
Any military operation would probably unfold at night or in the predawn hours in Syria, with an initial assault possibly lasting several hours and involving dozens of missile strikes from several warships.
What could follow is a period in which the U.S. would use satellites and other intelligence capabilities to assess the damage.
Such an assessment could be followed by an additional round or two of missile strikes, if ordered by the president. Officials believe the strikes could be limited to a single operation, but if extended would likely last no more than a few days.
Other U.S. military assets in the region, including an Air Force air wing of F-16 fighter jets located in Aviano, Italy, are available but might not be used, at least right away.
WHAT ABOUT THE SYRIAN MILITARY?
The Assad regime is believed to have about 400 operational aircraft and one of the most robust air defense networks in the region. There are multiple surface-to-air missiles providing overlapping coverage of key areas in combination with thousands of anti-aircraft guns capable of engaging attacking aircraft at lower levels.
Syria also has a mobile, land-based coastal defense system, including Yakhont anti-ship missiles capable of sinking large warships, including aircraft carriers.
Two years ago, the standing army was estimated to be about 250,000, but if reserves are included it could number closer to 700,000. The last two years of civil war, however, have taken a toll on the military, due to defections and the ongoing warfare.
The biggest concern, however, is that any U.S. attack could prompt retaliation by Assad, including the possible use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens or even attacks on nearby nations.
As Obama tries to rally support for an airstrike on Syria, he is asking everyone what they think. France is on his side, but Germany and the UK are against him. But what about the Syrians themselves? What do they have to say? “Syrians have spoken…
US President Barack Obama was meeting top national security aides on Friday over possible missile strikes to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack last week. France gave its backing to the US plans after British lawmakers…
French prosecutors are investigating alleged US spying under the PRISM surveillance programme following complaints by two human rights groups, sources close to the case said Wednesday. They launched an investigation on July 16 into fraudulent access…
Costas Vaxevanis, a 46-year-old veteran television journalist who now publishes a magazine, has insisted he was doing his job and accused ministers responsible for vetting the list for possible tax evasion of doing nothing for two years.
“We will endure this. Will they?” Vaxevanis tweeted ahead of the trial.
Vaxevanis, who was arrested on Sunday, was charged with breach of privacy and had faced a maximum three-year prison sentence if convicted.
Calling for his conviction, the prosecutor said: “You have publicly ridiculed a series of people, you have delivered these people to a society that is thirsty for blood.”
“The solution to the problems that the country is facing is not cannibalism,” added the prosecutor.
But after 12 hours of trial, the court acquitted Vaxevanis.
The ruling was met with applause, while a visibly emotional Vaxevanis thanked the judge.
Several media workers had testified on behalf of Vaxevanis, including the head of the International Federation of Journalists, Jim Bumelha, who called the trial an “absurd farce”.
“Colleagues from all over the world will be keeping an eye on this. If something happens to Costas, we will gather all of the forces that we have got, wherever we are, to campaign for his release,” he told reporters ahead of the verdict.
The head of the Athens union of journalists, Dimitris Trimis, also took the stand.
“I would have done the same thing,” Trimis told the court, according to excerpts posted on a blog operated by Vaxevanis.
“A bank account is not personal data, we live in an era of transparency,” Trimis said.
A radical leftist lawmaker whose father is on the journalist’s legal team denounced the case as a “blow to democracy”.
Amnesty International’s deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia, Marek Marczynski, said ahead of the ruling that it was “deeply troubling” that Vaxevanis is facing charges “for disclosing information in the public interest”.
“This step increases the risk that other journalists will censor themselves and refrain from legitimate criticism of the government to avoid prosecution,” he said.
Vaxevanis has accused the Greek state of hypocrisy and says the justice system is bowing to a corrupt political system.
“Our politicians declare themselves to be democrats. I see no evidence of this,” he wrote in Britain’s The Times newspaper on Thursday.
“I wonder if Greek justice will show that the law safeguards the public interest and freedom of speech… in journalism you must do what you think is right without worrying about the consequences,” he wrote.
The journalist has also accused Greek media of burying the story.
Vaxevanis’ “Hot Doc” magazine on Saturday published the names of more than 2,000 Greeks, allegedly from a controversial list of HSBC account holders that was originally leaked by a bank employee and passed to Greece in 2010 by France’s then finance minister Christine Lagarde, who is now IMF chief.
Greek authorities took no action given that the list was considered stolen data that could not be used against potential tax evaders.
When the case resurfaced last month, it took several days for officials to even locate a copy of the so-called “Lagarde List”.
Among those named are prominent businessmen, shipowners, lawyers, doctors, journalists and a former minister, as well as companies, housewives and students although no deposit sums were published.
The data has been the subject of intense discussion, with the government facing calls to use it to crack down on potential tax cheats as the country grapples with a massive debt crisis.
On Thursday, a special economic prosecutor asked parliament to investigate whether previous finance ministers could be faulted for failing to take action on the list, media reports said.
Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the socialist Pasok party and a former finance minister, told a parliament committee that he had ordered the finance ministry’s tax police to investigate, a claim which the department’s chief at the time denies.
Ex-finance minister George Papaconstantinou, the first recipient of the data in 2010, said he did not know what had happened to the original version of the list, raising speculation that it could have been tampered with.
Current finance chief Yannis Stournaras has asked France to re-send the list.
Vaxevanis says he got the information in an anonymous letter whose sender claimed to have received it from a politician.
On Wednesday, police arrested another journalist who claimed to have in his possession a list of finance ministry documents allegedly stolen by hackers from the state general accounting office
Europe is in crisis, and it’s not just about occasional flare-ups in peripheral sovereign debt markets anymore.
In fact, it’s really never been about that.
The European continent has for decades since the end of the Second World War struggled to create a transnational identity, the fulfillment of a dream to end military conflict between continental superpowers like France and Germany that has plagued it for centuries.
However, that identity – and the institutions like the EU and the ECB that embody it – has come at a great price. Voters in euro area member states have found that they are able to exercise less and less control over their own governance at the ballot box. In short, democracy is in crisis.
Now, Europe is at a historic crossroads, brought about by the disastrous implementation of the euro – it must either cede even more power to the supranational level, where voters aren’t represented by elected officials, or face the fallout in financial markets.
France will ask for a Europe-wide ban on a genetically modified maize developed by US agribusiness Monsanto if the findings of tests made public Wednesday prove to be true. The study found that rats fed on the corn for two years developed tumours the size of ping-pong balls, liver damage and digestive problems.
France will call for a ban “at a European level” if the national health agency (Anses) backs up the findings of the study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told an audience in the Burgundy city of Dijon on Thursday.
And a communiqué from Agriculture Minister Stéphane Foll, Ecology Minister Delphine Batho and Health Minister Marisol Touraine said that Paris may demand a ban on the import of Monsanto’s NK603 corn, the subject of the tests.
The question will also be taken to the European Union’s Food Safety Agency, which green campaigners have often accused of conflict of interest because several members are alleged to be connected to seed companies.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that rats fed on a diet of 33 per cent NK603 corn and others exposed to Roundup, the weedkiller used with it, developed tumours, liver damage and digestive problems.
Premature deaths and sickness were particularly prevalent among females.
While previous studies have usually lasted only about three months, Seralini’s lasted two years, the average rat’s lifespan, and the illnesses developed later in the period covered.
NK603 is a type of corn, or maize, that has been engineered to make it resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which is also manufactured by Monsanto, and is used by farmers to maximise yields.
It can be imported but not grown in Europe.
Only Monsanto’s MON810 transgenic corn and BASF’s Amflora potato can be grown in the European Union.
France, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania have outlawed the growing of MON810 on their territory.
Monsanto said it was “too soon” to comment when the findings were made public but some of Seralini’s colleagues criticised him for working with journalists to ensure that they were covered in the media before his peers had had time to examine them.
Gilles-Eric Seralini, who works at the University of Caen in Normandy, has publicly opposed GM agriculture for some time and often found himself in a minority when he sat on a government committee examining them.
By COLLEEN CURRY | ABC News
New ads scheduled to appear in the New York City subway system call for support of Israel in its war against “the savage,” a reference to militant Muslims.
The ads, put out by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, are aimed at criticizing violent attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists, according to Pamela Gellar, the founder and director of the group.
The ads read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
“The point is any war on civilians is savagery. The rockets going into Israel by Gaza is savagery, blowing up buses is savagery, targeting a bus of Jewish mothers and children, savagery, Daniel Pearl, 9/11, 7/7, 3/11, are all savagery,” she said referring to terror attacks in the U.S., Britain and Spain. “I’m just restating the obvious.”
The ad comes after a series of riots in the Mideast and Africa over a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed and as France braces for unrest after a magazine printed cartoons lampooning the prophet. Depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemy by Muslims.
Gellar said she is concerned that the violent blowback to the movie and the cartoons is squelching free speech around the world. She said that she is not worried about her ads provoking violence, and that only those who commit violent acts are responsible.
“What we’re witnessing here not just locally or nationally but internationally is the enforcement of the restriction of free speech under Sharia law. Under Sharia law you cannot criticize the prophet,” she said. “In my opinion any time is a good time to blaspheme because I am living in America and freedom of speech is not the eighth or tenth or fifteenth amendment, but the first.”
The ads were initially rejected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York’s subway and train systems. MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said that the ad failed to meet its standards, which prohibit demeaning language of any group. But those standards were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge this summer, he said.
“Our hands are tied. The court found the MTA’s regulations on non-commercial ads violated the First Amendment,” Donovan said.
France has temporarily closed its embassies and schools in 20 countries after a satirical magazine in Paris published insulting cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, a move it fears will add “fuel to the fire” of global tensions over an anti-Islam film.
“We have indeed decided as a precautionary measure to close our premises, embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters. Riot police were also sent to the offices of the weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
The acting head of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said French courts should deal with the case as firmly as it dealt with a magazine that published topless photographs of the U.K.’s Duchess of Cambridge.
The publication came amid widespread outrage over a crude, provocative film, made by anti-Islam campaigners in California, that mocked the Prophet and ignited days of deadly protests including an attack in Libya in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.
The front-page cartoon had the figure in a wheelchair saying “You mustn’t mock” under the headline “Untouchable 2,” a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralyzed rich white man and his black assistant
France has started providing direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as it intensifies efforts to weaken President Bashar Assad, in the first such move by a Western power, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.
The French aid comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take action to protect Syrians facing violence that has led to thousands of deaths.
Amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed, France — Syria’s former colonial ruler — has pushed to create “liberated zones” in Syria.
France has increased its contacts with armed opposition groups and started giving aid last Friday to local citizens’ councils in five cities outside the government’s control, the diplomatic source told The Associated Press. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius promised last week that such aid was in the pipeline.