Taliban announce 'countersurge' in Afghanistan


The militants have vowed to launch a new offensive against US and its allies, which are preparing to increase troop levels.

The Taliban have vowed to launch a new offensive this summer in Afghanistan against the government and the foreign soldiers stationed there. The news comes as the United States and its allies plan to increase their troop presence to counter the growing Taliban threat.
A wave of suicide attacks and ambushes will start Thursday, according to the Taliban website, al Emerah.
Since America and NATO have resolved to send extra troops to Afghanistan, therefore, the Afghans too in response feel the need to start rapid and strong operations, as part of their struggle, to defend themselves and to free the country…
The targets of these operations will be the military units of the invading forces, diplomatic centers, mobile convoys, high-ranking officials of the puppet administration.
The Guardian reports that the insurgents have the potential to make good on their promise.
A western security official said the statement should be taken seriously as the Taliban have previously lived up to their often bold statements of intent, including their past promises to attack roads and encircle Kabul.
"They said they would launch operations in the north of Afghanistan this year and that's exactly what they have done," he said.
"There is no doubt that they can counter-surge if they want to – if they choose to consolidate themselves in Pakistan."
Fighting has been intense across the country. The US claims to have killed up to 42 insurgents in various battles on Wednesday. Meanwhile, nine German soldiers were injured and one killed in a pair of attacks on Wednesday in the north of the country. Earlier this week a British soldier was killed in an explosion. The website iCasualties.org, which tracks troop fatalities, reports that 90 foreign soldiers have been killed so far this year, a 67 percent increase from the same period last year.
The US government and independent analysts said Thursday that violence has risen in the past year and the insurgents have consolidated and expanded their operations, according to the Associated Press. A new State Department study found that the number of insurgent attacks has increased. In addition, the American Security Project, Washington-based think tank, reported on Wednesday that the Taliban is gaining ground in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Governmental weakness in both states has created opportunities for radical Islamist groups on both sides of the border," the independent analysts concluded.
"Terrorist attacks are up, but worse, territory controlled by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban has also increased," said the American Security Project…
The American Security Project attributes the rise in incidents to the spread of the Taliban, which it said has a "persistent presence" in about 75 percent of the Afghanistan. In Pakistan, it noted that the government increasingly has ceded authority to militants in tribal areas, even before turning over the Swat Valley to the Taliban earlier this month.
Western nations are pouring more troops into the beleaguered country in hopes of stemming this violent tide. In addition to the more than 20,000 soldiers that the US has earmarked for Afghanistan, Australia and Britain are also pledging troop increases, The Afghan news website Quqnoos reports:
[The] British Prime Minister [said an] extra 700 troops will be sent to Afghanistan mainly to help provide security during upcoming elections.
Deployment of the new British contingent will [raise the number of] troops to 9,000 stationed in Afghanistan, mostly in Helmand, the stronghold of the Taliban militants.
"For Afghanistan, our strategy is to ensure the country is strong enough as a democracy to withstand and overcome the terrorist threat," Brown said.
In addition, Australia has pledged to send an additional 450 troops. The force increases this year will bring the total number of foreign forces in Afghanistan to more than 90,000.
President Obama is also planning to ask Congress for an additional $83 billion in funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, CNN reports.
The request is expected to pay for those conflicts for the rest of the 2009 budget year, two Democratic congressional sources said.
The money would bring the running tab for both conflicts to about $947 billion, according to figures from the Congressional Research Service.
More than three-quarters of the $864 billion appropriated so far has gone to the war in Iraq, the agency estimated.
READ MORE - Taliban announce 'countersurge' in Afghanistan

Pakistan appeals for unity against Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan's leader has called on the nation to unite behind the armed forces as they pressed a new offensive against Taliban militants on Thursday north of the capital Islamabad.
President Asif Ali Zardari said the nation was facing a "critical hour" in its fight against Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaeda, and that the military offensive in the scenic Swat region was vital to protect the constitution.
"Time has come for the entire nation to give pause to their political differences and rise to the occasion and give full support to our security forces," Zardari said in a statement late Wednesday.
"This is the only way to demonstrate our will, to keep Pakistan as a moderate, modern and democratic state where the rights of all citizens are protected," he said.
Pakistani troops have this week launched a series of operations against Taliban fighters who had taken control of Lower Dir and Buner districts, only around 100 kilometres (60 miles) outside Islamabad.
Operation Black Thunder came after intense pressure from the United States, which warned the Taliban's advance south from the Swat Valley and safe-havens near the Afghan border was posing a threat to Pakistan's very existence.
The military said Wednesday that special forces troops dropped by helicopter had re-taken Dagar, the main town in Buner, and had killed up to 50 Taliban fighters.
However the military's advance on three fronts, backed by fighter jets and attack helicopters, also met fierce resistance and much of Buner, home to around one million people, remained in Taliban hands.
Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the militants had taken over police stations in three villages and were holding 52 police officers and paramilitary soldiers hostage.
Pakistan says it has wrapped up the operation it launched at the weekend in Lower Dir. It said around 70 militants and 10 soldiers were killed, while at least 30,000 civilians had fled the area.
In February the Pakistani government largely ceded control of the Swat Valley region and agreed that Islamic sharia law could be enforced in a deal to end two years of a bloody rebellion led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.
But the Taliban failed to disarm and earlier this month up to 500 Taliban militants pushed into Lower Dir and Buner, imposing sharia law and terrorising the local population.
The Taliban suspended peace talks with the government Monday after the military launched it latest military operation, and it was unclear whether February's peace deal remained intact.
The new military action has been warmly welcomed by the United States, but President Barack Obama on Wednesday again expressed concern that Pakistan's civilian government may be struggling to control the situation.
"I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan," Obama said.
"I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile," he said.
Since Obama took office the United States has ramped up missile strikes by unmanned planes targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders in the northwest tribal region to the north of the Swat Valley, causing widespread anger in Pakistan.
In the latest attack, a suspected US missile strike late Wednesday on a vehicle in South Waziristan tribal district, bordering Afghanistan, killed at least six militants.
South Waziristan is a stronghold of Pakistan's top Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, who recently threatened to avenge missile strikes with attacks across the country and in the United States.
American and British commanders battling the insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan have grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan's inability to stem the flow of weapons and fighters from Pakistan's northern tribal regions.
READ MORE - Pakistan appeals for unity against Taliban

Your request is being processed... Baghdad Shiite Area Bombing Kills 17

BAGHDAD — Iraqi police say two car bombs have killed at least 17 people in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City.

The blasts went off in quick succession Wednesday from parked cars filled with explosives. A police official says at least 17 people were killed and nearly 50 wounded.

Sadr City is a former Shiite militia stronghold and is heavily guarded by Iraqi military. An offensive last year broke the control of militias over the district, and the area has been relatively quiet in recent months.

The police official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to release the information.
The blasts come less than a week after bombings claimed more than 150 lives over a two-day span.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) _ The American military says a U.S.-Iraqi patrol has been ambushed while distributing grants to Iraqi businesses near the northern city of Kirkuk.

Iraqi officials say two civilians were killed when the Americans returned fire, but the U.S. military says those killed were enemy fighters.

The shooting comes as tensions have risen over a deadly U.S. raid in southern Iraq that the Iraqi government says violated a security agreement.

U.S. spokesman Maj. Derrick Cheng says several people launched grenades and began shooting Wednesday as the patrol was handing out micro-grant money to stimulate small businesses in the town of Riyadh.

He says reports indicate "two enemy killed and one wounded." He says one American was also wounded.
READ MORE - Your request is being processed... Baghdad Shiite Area Bombing Kills 17

Afghan Taliban leader warns of new offensive

KABUL, Apr 29 - A senior leader of Afghanistan's Taliban warned Wednesday the movement will launch a new large-scale operation against the Afghan government, diplomatic missions, foreign troops and anyone supporting them.

Despite the increasing number of Western forces, the Taliban, ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a comeback in recent years and carried-out a series of stunning attacks in several major cities, including Kabul.

Posted on a Taliban website, (www.alemarah1.org) a message quoting the deputy leader of the movement, Mullah Brother Akhund, said the "Nasrat" (victory), will begin Thursday and include ambushes, bombs and suicide bomb attacks.

"The targets of these operations will be the military units of the invading forces, diplomatic centers, mobile convoys, high-ranking officials of the puppet administration, members of parliament and personnel of the so-called defense, interior and national security ministries," the message said.
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Through the offensive, the Taliban will seek to further tighten the encirclement of the enemy in the provinces and attack their supply routes, it added.

The message urged Afghan security forces to desert and join the militants and ordered private firms as well as individuals to stop working for the foreign troops.

U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban have made advances in recent years not only in Afghanistan, but also in neighboring Pakistan where they have some bases in the lawless tribal border region.

To fight the growing insurgency, the new administration in Washington has pledged to send an extra 21,000 troops this year to Afghanistan, where the level of foreign forces stand at more than 70,000.

The additional U.S. troops will be deployed mainly to the south east of the country.

The Taliban and al Qaeda leaders are still at large and thought to be in hiding in the tribal region on the Afghan-Pakistan border near to Pakistan's lawless northern tribal areas.
READ MORE - Afghan Taliban leader warns of new offensive

Russian warship seizes vessel with 29 suspected pirates off Somali coast

MOSCOW — Russian news agencies, citing the nation’s Defense Ministry, say a Russian warship has seized a vessel with 29 suspected pirates on board off the coast of Somalia.


RIA Novosti and other agencies say a Russian anti-submarine vessel seized the ship on Tuesday along with automatic rifles, pistols and ammunition found on board.

The reports say a Russian tanker fended off an attack by the same group earlier Tuesday.

Russia and other nations patrol the region as part of an international effort to deter pirate hijackings in the busy shipping lane off the Somali coast.
READ MORE - Russian warship seizes vessel with 29 suspected pirates off Somali coast

‘Islamist militants regrouping in Bangladesh’

KUSHTIA - Forty top leaders of Islamist militant outfits are regrouping with their 10,000-plus cadres in south-western Bangladesh in districts bordering India’s West Bengal state, authorities have said.

Bangladeshi authorities say they gleaned this information after interrogating Hizb-ut-Towhid militants who were arrested in this border town last week.
Hizb-ut-Towhid is an Islamist terror group run by Bayezid Khan Panni. The outfit is banned in several countries.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has now asked the home ministry to update its dossiers on militant bodies.
The ministry found that of the 33 groups identified so far, four were banned by the Khaleda Zia government after protests at home and an international outcry against activities of the Islamist militants.
The Daily Star quoted unnamed sources in the intelligence agencies as saying that the law enforcers were trying to hunt down the chiefs of those outfits holed up in various districts.
The Hasina government has set up a 17-member task force headed by State Minister for Home Tanjim Soheh Taj to tackle the spread of militancy.
The outfits operating in the region are Allahr Dal, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (Huji) and Hizb-ut Towhid.
Panni is currently leading Hizb-ut Towhid. He has written several books to indoctrinate his followers and also distributes leaflets.
According to police, during interrogation Hizb-ut Towhid men told them Panni invited them to prepare for ‘direct combat’.
Police said a large number of members and leaders of the organisation are well-trained and motivated.
READ MORE - ‘Islamist militants regrouping in Bangladesh’

Bangladesh charges British official with terror funding

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, April 28 : Investigators Tuesday formally charged the head of a British charity and 10 Bangladeshi agents with financing terrorism in the guise of operating a religious school in Bangladesh.

A court in southern Bhola district accepted the report on last month’s cache of arms recovered from a madrassa (religious school) and orphanage run by the Green Crescent charity, accusing its voluntary organisation head Faisal Mostafa and his 10 Bangladeshi associates.

A British national of Bangladeshi origin, Faisal was arrested in Dhaka April 6, nearly two weeks after security forces seized a cache of arms from the Green Crescent Madrassa and Orphanage located in a remote sub-district of Bhola, an island in the Bay of Bengal.

Investigators determined that Faisal had been involved in amassing arms and ammunition at the school and in supporting terrorism, according to a report submitted by police to a magistrate’s court.

The formal announcement of Faisal’s arrest came 11 days after his family claimed the head of the London-based charity was detained by police March 25, a day after the arms cache was seized at the religious school.

Four suspected militants were arrested from the institution at that time, while other suspected militants were detained later.

The Awami League-led alliance government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed earlier accused some non-governmental organisations of funding militancy in Bangladesh.
READ MORE - Bangladesh charges British official with terror funding

North Korea threatens nuclear test

Seoul, April 29 : North Korea Wednesday warned that it would conduct another nuclear test if the UN Security Council refused to apologise for criticising the Stalinist state’s April 5 rocket launch.

“Unless the UN Security Council offers an apology immediately, we will be forced to take additional self-defence measures to protect the highest interests of our republic,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement cited by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Those measures would include nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it said.

After the Security Council condemned North Korea’s rocket launch, which Western powers said was a cover-up for testing a long-range ballistic missile, Pyongyang quit international talks to end its nuclear weapons programme and announced it had restarted re-processing nuclear fuel to obtain plutonium for nuclear arms.
READ MORE - North Korea threatens nuclear test

Iran is a threat to the entire world: Israel defense minister

Jerusalem, Apr 28 : Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has described Iran as the country posing the most central threat not only to the Jewish state, but also to the entire world.

"Iran was "a threat to the entire world, as it is interested in changing the entire international order and is a source of instability in the Middle East and throughout the world," the Jerusalem Post quoted Barak, as saying.
When asked about overtures made by US President Barack Obama, Barak said that while Israel was "not in a position" to demand that the US not engage in talks with Iran, it was "certainly in a position to tell the international community to limit the diplomatic efforts within a set time frame and to have sanctions ready."

The defense minister hinted that Israel was not ruling out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities,saying that "Israel is prepared for all the options."

Asked about his position regarding possible peace talks with Syria, Barak stated that while it may not yet be possible to reach a peace agreement with Assad, he believed that "Syria should be on the list of countries with which Israel engages in negotiations, not in war."
READ MORE - Iran is a threat to the entire world: Israel defense minister

Marines Prepare for War in an Afghan Village in North Carolina


CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. —  Afghan guards armed with AK-47s keep watch just outside as a village elder sits in a room with no electricity and tells a U.S. Marine:


“The Taliban are recruiting young unemployed men to plant IEDs and fight the American military.”

Cpl. Adam King sits down, sips some tea and listens attentively. What he says and what he hears could save the lives of his Marines.

This is the scene in Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, where the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines — known as the 2/8 — have built a simulated Afghan village to prepare American troops for what they will face half a world away.

The 2/8 Marines will be traveling this summer, but they'll be going to a decidedly non-vacation spot:

Afghanistan, where Taliban violence is high and the presence of any authority is low.

Despite nearly eight years of American military presence, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are increasingly exerting their influence in Afghanistan — especially along the nation's border with Pakistan. There is a demand for more American troops, and they, in turn, see a demand for a change in strategy and training.

In Camp Lejeune, the new watchword is Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework (TCAF), military bureaucratese for rethinking the fight in Afghanistan.

Politely, through a Pashto-speaking interpreter, Cpl. King, a 23-year-old Michigan native, asks a precise series of questions formulated to produce data that will help discern patterns throughout Afghanistan, and identify the particularities of a specific location.

The answers the role-playing Afghan natives provide serve as a point of comparison — a different approach to intelligence gathering that resembles a sociological experiment more than a counter-insurgency tactic.
After the encounter, observers rate King's performance.

“They told me I should have gotten numbers and specifics when the elder mentioned key words like ‘lots of people,’” King told FOXNews.com during a short break in the 16-hour training exercise.

It's a small mistake — the kind the Marines can afford to make in Camp Lejeune, but the kind that could literally be life-or-death in Afghanistan.

Last year, more than a dozen Marines were killed in the areas where King and his fellow Marines will likely be deployed. While the 2/8 Marines are no strangers to war zones — many have served in Al Anbar, Iraq — there’s a growing sense among these Marines that Afghanistan will be a different fight, and they will have to adapt.

“I grew up preparing to fight the Soviets,” Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, commander of the 2/8 Marines, told FOXNews.com.

“We’re not doing stuff out there to make us feel better,” he said, reflecting on mistakes learned during multiple overseas tours.

“Before, we dug wells, built schools, stuff that we thought was important to us, but this (TCAF) is about what the Afghans know is important, and what Afghans know is of enormous value.”

The historic role of the 2/8 Marines has been to “Locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.” But in Afghanistan, in an effort to avoid costly mistakes, the Marine Corps has emphasized training that focuses largely on cultural issues.

A private defense contractor, Defense Training Systems (DTS), provides Afghan role-players and Afghan experts for the program.

“It’s a different type of training,” DTS representative Read Omohundro said as Afghan experts gave Marines a list of cultural Do’s and Don’ts:

— Do Shake hands firmly.
— Do adapt to Afghan customs of personal space.
— Do Not use the left hand when communicating.
— Do Not show the soles of boots.
— Do Not speak to friendly Afghans while wearing sunglasses.
— Do Not force an Afghan's head to the ground
And most importantly …
— Do Not point, smile, gesture or speak to female Afghans.
“We want the Marines to be culturally prepared,” Omohundro said, “but if the training requires a riot, firefight or explosions, I can give them that too.”

“The Taliban know who Marines are,” said infantry Sgt. Eric Beaverson, a native of Pennsylvania. During his last tour in Afghanistan, the Taliban nicknamed him and his fellow Marines “Deathwalkers” — “because we stay and fight,” he said.

But Afghans, too, have a reputation for staying and fighting that goes back for generations, so no one is expecting the pending tour to be easy.

“I can put an unmanned aerial vehicle in the air that can spot the enemy and trace his movements, but no matter how sophisticated the technology gets, a UAV still won’t tell me what the Afghans are thinking.” Cabaniss said.

Americans will have to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, and that means their strategy must go beyond bullets.

“We’ve gotten a lot smarter Cabaniss said.

“But don’t get me wrong; my Marines are more than ready to go head to head with the Taliban in any fight.”
READ MORE - Marines Prepare for War in an Afghan Village in North Carolina

Stark end game for Tigers



An ethnic Tamil woman at a refugee camp in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, 26 April
Most ethnic Tamil civilians have now left the war zone
The ceasefire declaration by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its immediate rejection by the government have emphasised the starkness of the situation in which the guerrilla group finds itself, 37 years after first taking up arms for the cause of a Tamil homeland and 26 years after the start of all-out war.
Masters of communication, the Tigers were quick to disseminate their message to journalists all over Colombo and overseas, too.
But to many it seemed like a cry of desperation from the losing side.
With no government reciprocation, there can be no immediate improvement in the dire situation of the civilians trapped in the Tamil Tigers' area.
The only alternative for the Tigers would seem to be surrender, but they have vowed never to do that.
The balance of evidence is that their most senior leaders are still inside the war zone, which would make surrender less likely.
Third ceasefire
The Tigers' declaration, though perhaps forced by military circumstance, may also have been influenced by the unfolding diplomatic situation.
It came hours after the arrival in Sri Lanka of the UN's Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes.
He says he will press for the government to let a humanitarian team into the small conflict zone to assess the needs of the trapped civilians.
The Tigers' communique said they welcomed the UN's current initiatives on this score.
So this organisation, which is outlawed as a terrorist group by many countries, is trying to show some sort of alignment with the calls from the UN and Western countries at this point, in contrast to the Sri Lankan government which is constantly rejecting the chorus of international calls for a halt in its offensive.
This is not the first time the Tigers have declared their readiness for a ceasefire in recent months.
But in its unilateral nature, this went further than the last two, which were earlier in April and in February.
On those two occasions they said they were ready for a permanent ceasefire which should be followed by talks on the difficulties faced by Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.
But in April, they actually dismissed the government's two-day pause in its fighting, calling it an "act of hoodwinking".
Belligerent mood
The government's position is that the war is nearly over and it is therefore determined to press on and achieve complete victory.
It says, too, that such a continuation is the only way of securing the freedom of the trapped people, whom it describes as hostages whom it is rescuing from the Tigers' clutches.
The "no ceasefire" position is popular among the country's Sinhalese majority, which constitutes about three-quarters of the population.
It has also been bolstered by this weekend's council elections for the province that includes the capital, Colombo.
President Rajapaksa's governing coalition secured an increased majority in a vote which most analysts said was mainly about the war.
"The president believed in himself and in wiping out terrorism," a government spokesman was quoted as saying. "And the people have also placed their belief in him."
But many Tamils, marginalised by successive governments, see things very differently.
There is widespread international concern that victory for the Sri Lankan military will not simply mean that the island will live happily ever after in peace and harmony.
Legacy of hatred
There are deep ethnic fault lines in Sri Lankan society and even some of the pro-government media voice qualms.
"The Eelam War as we have known it for the past 25 years or more is drawing to a close," says the Nation on Sunday.
"Whether that will signal the beginning of an era of political tolerance that will bring equality to all communities in this country is an entirely different question and that is an issue that the government of the day will have to address with the same zeal and earnestness with which they prosecuted the war against the LTTE."
These weeks and months of bitter fighting will have done nothing to alter those fault lines.
As the war goes on, there is a bitter propaganda battle in progress.
The Tamil Tigers have stepped up their denunciation of the government, accusing it of deliberately withholding food and medical supplies from the conflict zone and bringing the threat of starvation to the civilians inside.
The Sri Lankan government and pro-government media accuse the Tigers of keeping Tamil civilians as hostages and murdering people trying to flee their control, including little children.
On Sunday, Tamil pressure groups overseas alleged there had been dozens of aerial bomb attacks launched by the government on civilian settlements.
The United States, incidentally, alleges that the government is shelling the zone of confrontation.
But the government says it is using no heavy armaments and causing no civilian casualties.
Whatever Tamils feel about the LTTE, many do not trust the Sri Lankan state to guarantee their dignity and human rights.
There is complete disparity of information and a lot of hatred in Sri Lankan society that will be difficult to heal.
READ MORE - Stark end game for Tigers

Sri Lanka rebels call ceasefire

An undated photo released by pro-Tamil media which reportedly shows a government air strike inside a no-fire zone and civilians fleeing
This undated photo released by pro-Tamil media reportedly shows a government air strike inside a no-fire zone and civilians fleeing

Tamil Tiger rebels fighting government forces in north-east Sri Lanka have declared a unilateral ceasefire.
Rebel spokesman Seevaratnam Puleethevan told the BBC the move was due to an "unprecedented humanitarian crisis".
Sri Lanka's defence secretary however dismissed the announcement as "a joke", insisting the rebels must surrender.
The rebels have been beaten back to a 12 sq km (5 sq m) area. The UN says some 50,000 civilians remain trapped but the army puts the number at 15,000.


The defence ministry reports capturing the village of Valayanmadam, and says 23 rebels surrendered and 200 civilians were "rescued" there on Sunday morning. The report could not be verified independently.
The Tigers' announcement came as the United Nations' top humanitarian official, John Holmes, was meeting Sri Lankan officials to call for access for aid workers to the war zone and government-run camps for thousands of displaced people.
Aid workers have been barred from the area since the fighting escalated last year and the rebels say the government is deliberately blocking food aid - a charge the Sri Lankan authorities deny.
Propaganda war
The rebels said they were responding to calls made by the UN, EU, the governments of India and others.
BBC correspondent Charles Haviland
From Charles Haviland in Colombo


Outlawed as a terrorist group by many countries, the Tigers are trying to show they are clearly aligned with the UN and Western countries at this point, in contrast to the Sri Lankan government which is continually rejecting the chorus of international calls for a halt in its offensive.
This is not the first time the Tigers have declared their readiness for a ceasefire in recent months. Their past offers have often been sent to key international players with an interest in the Sri Lankan situation.
The government claims the war is nearly at an end and alleges that the Tigers have used past ceasefires to regroup and re-arm.
They said the unilateral ceasefire would come into immediate effect.
Spokesman Mr Puleethevan added that the Tigers would maintain their ceasefire only if the government reciprocated.
"It is purely for humanitarian purposes and the duration will depend on the response of the Sri Lankan government," he told AFP news agency by phone from inside rebel-held territory.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the BBC the Tigers were the "the losing side."
Saying the army was within "walking distance" of rebel-controlled areas, he called for the rebels to surrender immediately and release all civilians within the conflict zone.
Images from surveillance drones showed there were 15,000 civilians left in the war zone, he added.
Denying media reports that he had been stopping food supplies to trapped civilians, he said that he himself had asked the World Food Programme and the Red Cross to deliver relief to them.
A bitter propaganda battle is in progress, the BBC's Charles Haviland reports from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.
The Tigers accuse the government of bringing the threat of starvation to civilians inside the war zone.
Sri Lankan soldiers advance towards the front line in Puthukkudiyiruppu, 24 April
Troops have ringed off the Tigers
The government and pro-government media accuse the Tigers of keeping Tamil civilians as hostages and murdering people trying to flee their control, including little children.
The Tamil Tigers have fought for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority since 1983.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the war, but that figure could now be far higher because of intensified fighting in recent weeks.
Hospitals and government-run camps for displaced people in the north-east have been flooded by people fleeing the shrinking rebel-held zone as the military closes in on the rebels.
'Very dire' situation
Speaking in Thailand on his way to Sri Lanka, Mr Holmes said the civilians caught up in the conflict were suffering not only a high casualty rate from the fighting but from a lack of access to food, clean water and medical supplies.
"The situation of these people is very dire and that's why we need to somehow find a way to stop the fighting and get them out of there so we can look after them properly," he said.
A UN document being circulated around diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka estimates that nearly 6,500 civilians have died and 14,000 have been injured since the end of January.
The White House said it was "deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers and the mounting death toll".
It called on both sides to adhere to international humanitarian law and to "stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone".

Sri Lanka map

READ MORE - Sri Lanka rebels call ceasefire

70 percent of global terrorism takes place in Asia: expert

Kolkata, April 26 :  Almost 70 percent of the world’s terrorist activities occur in Asia and insurgent outfits operate across the globe from the sub-continent, according to a top security expert.

“As far as terrorism and security matters are concerned, the entire focus of global terrorism has shifted from Europe to South Asian countries. And nowadays, almost 70 percent of global terrorist activities are taking place in Asian countries,” retired vice-admiral P.S Das said, while delivering a lecture on “Changing Dimensions of National Security” Saturday.


He said the focus of terrorism had mainly shifted because of the emergence of three Asian giants - China, India and Japan - as global superpowers.

“Terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Al-Qaeda, Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami (Huji) and many others are based in Asian countries. And these terrorist organisations are not targeting any military power, but they are attacking civilians.”

“We have to take all of these into account and until we are prepared for such factors, we’ll not be able to tackle these problems,” he said.

Das said India is surrounded by countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.

“Our country is located in the middle of Myanmar and Afghanistan - the two major destinations where narco-terrorism is on at a rapid pace. Bangladesh is another neighbouring nation which has often been blamed for giving shelter to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agents,” said Das, a national security expert and former Commander-in-Chief of India’s Eastern Naval Command.

Terming the 26/11 attack as a humiliation for India’s national security, he said: “Non-state actors are more dangerous than any particular nation, as we could face them with our military capacities. But the non-country threats are targeting common citizens which is the toughest challenge for us these days.”

He said national security did not only mean external threats from enemy nations, but also comprised internal security matters which were even more important and critical to fight.
READ MORE - 70 percent of global terrorism takes place in Asia: expert

Growth of Chinese Navy not surprising: US Admiral

New Delhi, Apr 20: The growth of the Chinese Navy is in line with its economy and “it’s no surprise to see it develop the way that it has,” a top US naval officer has said.
“The advancement and growth of the PLA navy is consistent with China’s economic advancement and its role in a globalised world,” said Admiral Gary Roughead, US Chief of Naval Operations.
Admiral Roughead told reporters in Beijing that China’s plan to build its first aircraft carrier is not a cause of worry.
“There has been no doubt in my mind that the acquisition of an aircraft carrier and carrier aviation was something that was clearly an ambition and an objective of the PLA Navy,” the China Daily quoted him, as saying.
“The advent of an aircraft carrier on the part of the PLA navy, to me, really doesn’t change the nature of our operations at all,” Admiral Roughead added.
The US Navy Chief, who met his Chinese counterpart Wu Shengli on Saturday, emphasized the importance of military exchanges between the two countries.
Tensions between the United States and China rose last month over an incident in the South China Sea.
The US claimed five Chinese ships had harassed USNS Impeccable in international waters on March 8. But China said the ship was on Chinese waters and had violated international and Chinese laws.
READ MORE - Growth of Chinese Navy not surprising: US Admiral

Suspected US missiles kill 3 in NW Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban compound in a northwest Pakistani militant stronghold bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three people, officials said.

The blasts came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 27 people — most of them security forces — elsewhere in the northwest. A senior Taliban leader claimed responsibility for that attack, and promised more if the U.S. kept up its missile strikes in the region.

Shahab Ali Shah, the top administrative official from South Waziristan tribal region, said five people also were wounded in Sunday's strike in the Zari Noor village area. The identities of the dead and wounded were not immediately clear.

An intelligence official confirmed the assessment that missiles were involved. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

South Waziristan is the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed allied with al-Qaida.

Since August, the U.S. has escalated its use of drone-fired missile strikes along Pakistan's lawless northwest regions, where al-Qaida and the Taliban are believed to have hideouts from which to plan attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is a favorite target of the missiles.

The pro-Western Pakistani government has demanded an end to the strikes, saying that although they have killed several militant leaders, they also fan anti-American sentiment and violate the country's sovereignty.

Haji Gul Zaman, who lives just outside Zar Noor village, said he heard two blasts Sunday and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area. Trucks carrying Taliban fighters raced toward the scene, said Zaman. Shah said the strike also damaged several vehicles.

The suicide attack Saturday damaged about a dozen army trucks and jeeps as well as a police station at the checkpoint near the town of Hangu, said Farid Khan, a senior police official.

At least 25 members of the security forces and two civilians died, Khan told The Associated Press by phone from a hospital near the scene. Another 62 security personnel and three civilians were wounded, including the local police chief, other officials said.

The attack was claimed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who vowed earlier this month to carry out two suicide attacks a week to press for the withdrawal of Pakistan troops from the border region and for an end to the missile strikes.

"We are meeting our pledge. ... We will intensify our attacks if the drone strikes in the tribal areas do not stop," Mehsud told AP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Pakistan is under intense international pressure to crack down on an increasingly integrated array of Islamist extremist groups operating on its soil.

Donors including the U.S, Japan and Saudi Arabia on Friday pledged more than $5 billion to shore up Pakistan's shaky economy and pay for schemes to alleviate poverty and bolster its security forces — twin tracks in a longer-term drive to dry up support for extremism.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Habib Khan in Khar contributed to this report.
READ MORE - Suspected US missiles kill 3 in NW Pakistan

US could invade FATA if Qaeda strikes again: UK expert

Karachi, Apr.19: The United States may have shunned plans to deploy troops on Pakistan soil for the time being, but any future terror attack on US or its interests anywhere in the world by Al-Qaeda would certainly see an invasion of Pakistans Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by the Obama administration, a British expert has warned.

Addressing a seminar Changing Nature of War and War Studies here, Professor in the Department of War Studies at Kings College, London, Anatol Lieven said that if Al-Qaeda further targets America, the US would be then forced to send its security forces inside Pakistans geographical area which could ultimately result in the disintegration of the country.

Lieven said that apart from the US led drone strikes, any on-ground operation of the US Army could create serious problems for the Pakistan military.

He said a majority of the people in western countries and also in Pakistan consider militancy a major threat to the countrys existence .

Extremism, however, can only damage the country. Pakistans fundamental problem, which has the potential to destroy it, is the scarcity of water, its wastage, incompetence (in water resources management) and too much population, Lieven added.

Lieven said he does not agree with the western medias portrayal of Pakistan as a failed state.

Pakistan is a troubled state, which has only failed in FATA and Swat as its law, political parties and institutions like the police do not work as they should do, The News quoted Lieven, as saying.

Referring to the presence of allied forces in Afghanistan, he said it will help increase radicalisation in Pakistan, however, he added that the withdrawal of the forces can result in greater difficulties for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Commenting on the Pakistan Governments decision to allow the Taliban to implement Islamic law in Swat Valley, Lieven emphasized that making a deal with the Taliban would result in giving them an upper hand as the insurgents would consider it as their appeasement.

They will start regulating society, and they will start attacking Americans, which is unacceptable to the US, he said.

Terming the war on terror as an absurd and damaging phrase, Lieven said that a complete victory in the fight was never possible.

Only a tactical victory could be achieved, he said.
READ MORE - US could invade FATA if Qaeda strikes again: UK expert

US working to jam radio stations, websites of Taliban: Report

Press Trust of India, Saturday April 18, 2009, Washington


AP image
US is trying to prevent the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan from using radio stations and websites to intimidate civilians and plan attacks, pushing deeper into "psychological operations" against the militants who have an edge in the "information war", a media report said on Saturday.
Under the broad effort launched by the Obama Administration, US military and intelligence personnel are working to jam the unlicensed radio stations that the Taliban fighters use to broadcast threats and decrees in Pakistan's restive northwestern region bordering Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported citing senior American officials.
It said the US personnel are also trying to block the Pakistani chat rooms and websites that frequently contain videos of attacks and inflammatory religious material that attempts to justify acts of violence.
The push takes the administration deeper into "psychological operations," which attempt to influence how people see the US, its allies and enemies, the report said.
Psychological operations are necessary part of reversing deterioration of stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, it said citing officials involved with the new programme.
US officials believe that the Taliban enjoy an advantage by being able to freely communicate threats and decrees. "The Taliban aren't just winning the information war -- we're not even putting up that much of a fight," a senior US official in Afghanistan was quoted as saying.
"We need to make it harder for them (Taliban) to keep telling the population that they're in control and can strike at any time," the official said.
The paper noted that Taliban leaders in Pakistan use unlicensed FM stations to recite the names of local government officials, police officers and other figures who have been marked for death by the group. Hundreds of people named in the broadcasts have later been killed, it said quoting officials.
The US may also provide radio-jamming equipment to the Pakistani government, the report said citing officials familiar with the plans.
The new push reflects the influence of Gen. David Petraeus, who runs the military's Central Command and has long been a major proponent of using psychological operations to reduce popular support for armed Islamist groups, it said.
Richard Holbrooke, Special US Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had earlier likened the Taliban radio stations to Rwanda's Radio Mille Collines, a virulently sectarian broadcaster widely believed to have helped fuel the Rwandan genocide, the Journal said.
"Nothing has been done so far" about impeding the Taliban communications, Holbrooke had said. "We have identified the information issue ... as a major, major gap to be filled."
The US has started American-funded radio stations in many rural parts of Afghanistan, the paper said.
READ MORE - US working to jam radio stations, websites of Taliban: Report

Battalion sent to Afghanistan after 2 weeks in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Alfred Luna, right, and Spec. Randy Neff count ammunition that 4th Engineer Battalion has to turn in before it departs Baghdad. The unit is getting ready to redeploy to Afghanistan, after arriving in Iraq just a few weeks ago.

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — Welcome to Iraq. Now go to Afghanistan.
That was the message delivered to the Army's 4th Engineer Battalion just two weeks after arriving in Baghdad for what was supposed to be a year-long tour.
Despite the stress caused by the unusual change of plans last month, many of the unit's approximately 500 soldiers said they realized their specialty — clearing roads of bombs and other obstacles — is more needed in the area of southern Afghanistan, where they'll likely begin patrols in a few weeks.
"If we were in the frying pan, we're now heading directly into the fire," Capt. Heath Papkov, one of the unit's company commanders, said this week as the soldiers packed their gear to leave.
Moving a unit directly from one theater of war to another on such short notice is very rare, said Lt. Col. Kevin Landers, the battalion's commander. Usually when troops are shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, the change occurs between regular rotations abroad, after they spend several months at their home base.
The decision underscores how military commanders are scrambling to meet President Obama's orders to draw down the U.S. presence in Iraq while deploying an additional 21,000 troops to combat the growing insurgency in Afghanistan.
Even after a spate of bombings in Baghdad in recent weeks, the overall rate of violence in Iraq remains at levels not seen since 2003, according to the U.S. military. Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. andNATO troops are on the rise in Afghanistan, and roadside bombs are the cause of 75% of coalition casualties there.
The region where the 4th Engineer Battalion is being deployed accounts for about 60% of all roadside bombs in Afghanistan.
The battalion's transfer is "either an indication of the improving situation in Iraq or the quickly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan," said Loren Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute. "It's probably more of the latter."
The unit has continued its patrols in Baghdad while preparing for the move, a huge undertaking that includes the movement of millions of pounds of gear and dozens of heavy-armored vehicles. It could take 40 to 60 flights to transfer everything.
Commanders could not put a precise estimate on the additional cost of the move, but 2nd Lt. Gregory Smith, a logistics officer, said it will cost "millions and millions of dollars."
"It's been pretty stressful," Smith said. "But it's a good feeling to be going where we're really needed."
READ MORE - Battalion sent to Afghanistan after 2 weeks in Iraq

How the US crew fought off Somali pirates

For the first time, crewmembers of the Maersk Alabama share details of their Indian Ocean encounter


As the Maersk Alabama plowed through the glassy waters of the Indian Ocean last Wednesday morning, the cargo ship's 70-year-old electrician sat in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee, counting the minutes to breakfast.

Suddenly, the ship's alarm sounded, shattering the morning calm. The electrician rose with a start. It was, he reckoned immediately, the scenario that he'd been warned about for four months, ever since he set off aboard the Alabama into the most dangerous waters in the world.

Four Somali pirates had boarded the ship. On the deck of the blue-hulled Alabama, which was ferrying 17,000 tons of food aid to East Africa, the young pirates waved automatic weapons at ship captain Richard Phillips, the chief engineer and at least two other crewmembers. They demanded to know the whereabouts of the others, who'd gone into hiding as Phillips had trained them.

Twelve nerve-rattling hours later, the pirates had left in a lifeboat with Phillips as a hostage, but the crew of 19 – a motley, only-in-America bunch hailing from places as faraway as India, Poland and Detroit – had joined wills to thwart the first attempted hijacking of an American vessel at sea in at least two centuries.

In the rash of pirate attacks in the waters off Somalia, this is believed to be the first time that a crew successfully fought off a hijack attempt. More than 40 ships were hijacked last year, and four more were captured Tuesday, along with some 60 hostages.

The Alabama's crew steered their ship to Mombasa, Kenya, and on Sunday, US Navy sharpshooters aboard the USS Bainbridge destroyer killed three pirates on the lifeboat, rescuing Phillips after more than 100 hours in captivity.


No cowards on this ship
"There were no cowards on that ship," said the electrician, who asked to be identified by only his first name, John, because crewmembers feared they could be targeted for reprisals.

Maersk Line, the Norfolk, Va., ship owner, said that the USS Bainbridge would bring Phillips to Mombasa on Wednesday to be reunited with his crew, and then they're expected to board a chartered plane to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The crew said Phillips wasn't the easiest man to work for. "He's in charge, and he wants you to know he's in charge," said Ken Quinn, a trim, middle-aged man from Detroit. His weekly, taskmaster-style drills, however, probably saved them all.

Crewmembers cut the Alabama's engine and killed the power, making it harder to commandeer. They sunk the pirates' speedboat, though they wouldn't say how. John crawled into hiding with several others in the dark, sweltering engine room.

The "only redneck on board," John, who lives in Lake Helen, Fla., got his first seafaring job nearly five decades ago aboard a Polaris submarine. Gray-haired and, of late, slightly potbellied, he's a proud owner of 87 acres of lakeside Alabama country and is a drawly, drawn-out storyteller in the southern tradition. It was his first hijacking, and before he set off on the Alabama he'd barely heard of Somalia, never mind Somali pirates.

It was suffocating inside the engine room – 130 degrees, he estimated. John tried to fan himself with a scrap of cardboard, but that just exhausted him more. And he had no idea how long they'd have to stay down there.


Capturing one pirate
Two hours went by, and there was a shot heard above. One of the pirates had pressed an AK-47 rifle into the forehead of the chief engineer, a short, wiry Indian-American named A.T.M. Reza, and then squeezed off a round about an inch from Reza's ear.

The pirates spoke just enough English to make their intentions known. "Tell us where they are or I'll kill you," one said to Reza.

Reza agreed to lead one of the teenage pirates below deck. But before they reached the engine room, another crewmember stepped out from behind them and jumped onto the pirate. Reza stabbed the Somali's skinny hand with an ice pick and they hauled him into the engine room.

The pirate was pushed to the floor. A boot was jammed into his neck. The Somali gasped for breath and seemed to pass out. Someone jerked him up from the floor and he coughed back into consciousness.

"If any of our crew gets killed, I'd have killed him," John said of the pirate. "I wanted my pound of flesh." But Reza reminded them that the pirate could be a bargaining chip.

Many more hours passed. John unbuttoned his shirt to his navel in a futile attempt to get some air. He glanced over from time to time at the pirate, who was tied up and now lying very still.

"I thought, at least he's more uncomfortable than me," he said.

A pirate for a captain
They'd spent 12 hours down there when, finally, they were summoned to the deck. Phillips had offered himself up as a hostage in exchange for the captured pirate and climbed into one of the Alabama's 28-foot lifeboats, now bobbing alongside the ship. True to character, he was yelling at his crew to fill the boat with water and fuel so he could come back aboard.

"What the hell took you so long to get here?" Phillips shouted.

The deal was that the crew would lower the injured pirate into the lifeboat in a harness, and Phillips would climb aboard. But the pirate surprised the crew by jumping into the lifeboat. "Let's go!" he said, and the pirates shoved off with Phillips in custody.

It would be five days before they would hear from him again. On Monday, the morning after Phillips' rescue, first mate Shane Murphy said the crew had "an extremely emotional" phone conversation with Phillips.

"Everyone you see here today has captain Phillips to thank for their lives and their freedom," Murphy said.
There were other heroes, of course. Take Reza, the middle-aged father who stabbed the pirate's hand. That wound eventually became infected, forcing the pirate to ask US sailors to board the USS Bainbridge for medical care Sunday, hours before the Navy assault killed his three comrades.

The young man remains in military custody and could face charges in the United States – the only pirate alive to tell their side of this story.
READ MORE - How the US crew fought off Somali pirates

India tests nuke-capable rocket

BHUBANESWAR (India) - India on Wednesday successfully tested a short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile from a facility in eastern Orissa state, defence sources said.

The test of an improved version of Prithvi-II (Earth) was carried out from Integrated Testing Range at Chandipur-on-sea, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) northeast of state capital Bhubaneswar.

'It was a user trial of the army version of the 150-350 kilometres range Prithvi,' a defence scientist said on condition of anonymity, adding the firing was conducted at 10.20am (12.50pm Singapore time).

The 8.5-metre (28-foot) surface-to-surface missile, first tested in February 1988, can carry a one-tonne conventional or nuclear payload.

South Asian rivals India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars, routinely carry out missile tests but normally notify each other in advance under an agreement.
READ MORE - India tests nuke-capable rocket

Somali Pirates Hijack 4 More Ships

MOMBASA, Kenya — Somali pirates captured four ships and took more than 60 crew members hostage in a brazen hijacking spree, while the American captain freed from their grip planned to reunite with his crew and fly home Wednesday to the United States.
Pirates have vowed revenge for the deaths of three colleagues at the hands of U.S. snipers rescuing Capt. Richard Phillips, as well as for two others slain by French forces in a separate rescue last week.

"Our latest hijackings were meant to show that no one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land," Omar Dahir Idle, a pirate based in the coastal town of Harardhere, told The Associated Press by telephone. "The recent American operation, French navy attack on our colleagues or any other operation mean nothing to us."

The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday he takes such comments seriously.

But Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that "we're very well prepared to deal with anything like that."
Phillips, who offered himself up as a hostage to save the crew of the Maersk Alabama, was rescued Sunday when U.S. Navy SEALs shot three pirates dead after a five-day standoff.
The commander of the USS Bainbridge, the American destroyer from which the SEALs took their shots at the pirates, said the captain's life was repeatedly threatened. Cmdr. Frank Castellano of the destroyer USS Bainbridge told The Associated Press the pirates repeatedly stated "it was their intention to kill him."
Special forces on the warship, believing Capt. Richard Phillips' life was in immediate danger, ended the standoff Sunday with three well placed shots, killing the pirates.

Castellano did not give further details about where Phillips is now.
The captain and his 19-man crew will reunite in the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Wednesday and fly from there to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on a chartered flight, according to the shipping company Maersk. They will be reunited with loved ones at Andrews in a private reception area.
Despite Mullen's confident statement and President Barack Obama's warning of further U.S. action, Somali pirates captured two more nautical trophies Tuesday to match the two ships they seized a day or two earlier.
The latest seizures were the Lebanese-owned cargo ship MV Sea Horse, the Greek-managed bulk carrier MV Irene E.M. and two Egyptian fishing boats. Maritime officials said the Irene carried 21 to 23 Filipino crew and the International Maritime Bureau reported 36 fishermen, all believed to be Egyptian, on the two boats.
It was not known exactly how many crew the Sea Horse had, but a ship that size would probably need at least a dozen sailors.
NATO spokeswoman Shona Lowe said pirates in three or four speedboats captured the Sea Horse off Somalia's eastern coast on Tuesday _ an attack that came only hours after the Irene was seized in a rare overnight raid in the nearby Gulf of Aden.
The two Egyptian fishing boats were hijacked in the gulf off Somalia's northern coast but it was not clear if those attacks came Monday or Sunday.
The Gulf of Aden, which links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, is one of the world's busiest and most vital shipping lanes, crossed by over 20,000 ships each year. It has been at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A flotilla of warships from nearly a dozen countries has patrolled the Gulf of Aden and nearby Indian Ocean waters for months. They have halted many attacks on ships this year, but say the area is so vast they can't stop all hijackings.
Pirates have attacked 78 ships this year, hijacking 19 of them, and about 17 ships with more than 300 crew still remain in pirates' hands, according to Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.
Each boat carries the potential of a million-dollar ransom.
A senior U.S. defense official in Washington said Phillips was being debriefed Tuesday on the USS Bainbridge. Among other questions, FBI officials and maritime experts are keen to know exactly what each hostage-taker did, to gather evidence for possible criminal investigations or to better prepare for future hostage situations.
It was not clear exactly who was interviewing Phillips. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
A fourth pirate who had been holding Phillips was in U.S. custody after surrendering.
The Irene, flagged in the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was sailing from the Middle East to South Asia, Choong said.
U.S. Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said the Irene carried 23 Filipino crew, while Choong reported it had 21 and Greek marine officials said it carried 22. There was no immediate way to reconcile the figures.
A maritime security contractor, speaking on condition of anonymity because it is a sensitive security issue, said the Irene put out a distress signal "to say they had a suspicious vessel approaching. That rapidly turned into an attack and then a hijacking."
"They tried to call in support on the emergency channels, but they never got any response," the contractor said.
In Washington, Obama appeared to move the piracy issue higher on his agenda, vowing the United States would work with nations around the world to fight the problem.
"I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks," Obama told reporters Monday.
The 19 crew members of the Alabama celebrated their skipper's freedom with beer and an evening barbecue Monday in Mombasa.
The U.S. is considering new options to fight piracy, including adding Navy gunships along the Somali coastline and launching a campaign to disable pirate "mother ships."
The four pirates who attacked the Alabama were between 17 and 19 years old, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"Untrained teenagers with heavy weapons," Gates told students and faculty at the Marine Corps War College. "Everybody in the room knows the consequences of that."
U.S. officials were now considering whether to bring the fourth pirate, who surrendered shortly before the sniper shootings, to the United States or turn him over to Kenya. Both piracy and hostage-taking carry life prison sentences under U.S. law.
___
Associated Press writers who contributed to this report include Pauline Jelinek from Washington, Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia; Michelle Faul, Malkhadir M. Muhumed, Tom Maliti and Todd Pitman in Kenya; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Adam Schreck in Manama, Bahrain, Lara Jakes, Anne Gearan and Devlin Barrett in Washington; Slobodan Lekic in Brussels.
READ MORE - Somali Pirates Hijack 4 More Ships

Sri Lanka ceasefire 'a deception'



Tamil Tigers, file pic
The Tamil Tigers have been restricted a designated "safe zone"
Tamil Tiger rebels have said that a two-day ceasefire called by Sri Lanka's government is an attempt to deceive the international community.
The rebels called for a permanent internationally supervised truce as the ceasefire entered its second day.
The government announced the halt in fighting to allow civilians trapped in the conflict zone to leave.
The rebels' statement said they were ready for open political talks to end the decades of bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's foreign secretary said the Tigers were using the truce to force civilians to shore up defences.
'Ready to comply'
The Tigers said the two-day truce was "merely an act of hoodwinking".
They said there should be an internationally supervised truce and that such a ceasefire should also contain a base for political solutions.

"The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] has for long been requesting a permanent ceasefire encompassing sensible military and political essence. This, the LTTE still reiterates," the statement said.
"The LTTE desires that it should also create a conducive climate for a permanent political resolution to the national question of the Tamils in a peaceful way. The LTTE is ready to comply without any conditions to a ceasefire as described above."

The Tigers have so far failed to demonstrate any genuine goodwill on their part in allowing the civilians to have free movement
Rohitha Bogollagama,
Sri Lanka foreign minister
The rebels accused the army of continuing to shell civilian areas on the first day of the temporary ceasefire. The army has denied the accusation.
Sri Lankan military officials said that the frontlines in the north-east had remained largely quiet except for some minor clashes.
Aid agencies say that tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped in a government-designated no-fire zone - though only 18 came out on Monday.
The government accuses the rebels of holding the civilians against their will. The Tamil Tigers say the civilians do not want to leave the safe zone because they fear the military.
Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona accused the rebels of rebuilding defences with civilian labour during the truce.
Dr Kohona told the BBC's Tamil service: "Holding anybody hostage is a criminal act."
He indicated that the government had no intention of extending the two-day truce.
"What is the purpose of keeping it extended if they don't let the people go?" he asked.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has urged Sri Lanka not to return to all-out fighting against the Tamil Tigers after the end of the truce period.
In a telephone call with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Rohitha Bogollagama, Mr Miliband said the ceasefire could be an important first step towards the end of conflict without further civilian casualties.
In a statement, Mr Bogollagama said "a longer pause was not possible because the Tigers have so far failed to demonstrate any genuine goodwill on their part in allowing the civilians to have free movement".
The authorities were also concerned that the rebels would use the opportunity to consolidate in the ceasefire zone, the statement added.
He said the stance of government of Sri Lanka remains unchanged in not recognising the appointment of a special envoy by Britain.

MAP OF THE REGION
Map

READ MORE - Sri Lanka ceasefire 'a deception'

Losing the wimp

A few days ago, the US navy rescued an American ship captain being held hostage by Somali pirates. The dramatic rescue involved navy marksmen shooting down three pirates, capturing one and saving the captain. Amidst the entire high sea drama, the white house kept a very low profile, giving complete authority to the military men in the field, and especially giving the appropriate standing authority to the commander on the scene, enabling him to take decisive combat action.

Going back to the 26/11 hostage standoff, one sees how India’s politicians dropped the ball by continuing to make major decisions instead of early delegation to the Indian military, thus wasting precious initial hours and letting the terrorists gain an upper hand in the crisis. One of the hotly debated topics in the coming
parliamentary elections is the willingness of India’s leaders to take the terrorism fight to the terrorists. Not just the al-qaeda insurgency, but the ISI-backed sleeper cells and the naxalites and Central India’s jungles or the separatists in the northeast and even the same high-seas terrorism in the Indian ocean.

More often than not, in India, the delegation of authority to execute the lethal force to stomp out the bad guys, is not an issue about the wimp factor. It is the pimp factor. It is the way the political hierarchy controls, manipulates, and pressures the enforcers and the first responders and the border defenders. It is the way the politicians dictate which first information report reports make it all the way and which don’t. Many of the crises seen today were manageable and nippable-in-the-bud incidents back when they began.

A retired colonel of the Indian army recently told me about the sharp and smart colleagues he worked with and how they saw opportunities being wasted in the fight against the bad guys. He described how Kashmir, once India’s tourist paradise, deteriorated into hell right in front of everyone’s eyes. He told how tranquil woods in southern India became naxalite dens and dacoit havens. The common factor with many of the failures, he said, was not the police’s or the army’s ability to tackle bad guys, but their inability to pursue the right courses of action.

Much depends on what amalgam of forces comes to power in a few weeks, and what kind of leader they choose. No matter what party it is, one hopes the person at the top has it in her or him to allow lethal force ion combating the evil. Considering how worse Pakistan’s situation will be in another 5 years, it is imperative that Indians choose someone who will have the guts to take decisive action against enemies. It is highly likely that India will need to go to Pakistan before it goes to the moon.
READ MORE - Losing the wimp

BJP compromised on national terror: Sonia Gandhi

Silchar (Assam), April 14 : In a scathing attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress president Sonia Gandhi Monday said the BJP-led government compromised on India’s national security by exchanging three terrorists for the Indian Airlines hostages in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1999.

“Today one of them (Masood Azhar who later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed) is masterminding terror acts in India and you know who was there in the government…it was Lal Krishna Advani who was then the deputy prime minister and also the home minister of India,” Gandhi told an election rally in the southern Assam town of Silchar.

“The Congress party would never compromise on terrorism and pledges to fight terror very firmly.”

Gandhi was on a daylong tour of the northeast and addressed election rallies in Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar, Meghalaya capital Shillong, and a poll meeting in Silchar.

“We need to wage a war against terrorism and also communalism…the BJP believes in false promises and propagandas,” the Congress president said.

Describing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a person with a “clean image”, Gandhi said the Congress party is the only party that could provide stability and good governance.

“Manmohan Singh, with his clean image and efficient leadership, can provide a strong government to the country,” Gandhi said.

Talking about the pre-poll tie-up between the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam, the Congress president said such alliances were just for power and not in the interest of the common people.

“The AGP is a party based on false promises and hopes and the two of them got together for power alone,” she said.
READ MORE - BJP compromised on national terror: Sonia Gandhi

Navy Credited With Bold Rescue of U.S. Captain Held by Somali Pirates

The U.S. Navy, and particularly the SEALS, are given kudos for its successful rescue operation, but blame is still placed on the U.S. for the growth in piracy.
President Obama and U.S. lawmakers on Monday praised the weekend operation of U.S. Navy SEALS responsible for the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage when his freighter ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia last week.

"I am very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and the many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation," Obama said at the Department of Transportation.

"I share our nation's admiration for Captain Phillips' courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew and I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of (piracy) in that region, and to achieve that goal we're going have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks and we have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, we have to ensure those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable."

"Captain Phillips' rescue in particular demonstrates the Navy SEALS' extraordinary capability to conduct complex and sensitive operations," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.
"As long as safe havens exist along the Somali coast, we should expect this criminal piracy to continue. The international community must come together, take a good look at our options and seriously consider what can be done to eliminate the threat. We cannot allow the criminals who threaten the safety of the seas to remain unchallenged," Skelton said.'

With the immediate threat to the Maersk crew over, a Department of Defense official told FOX News that contingency planning is now under way on a variety of possible military operations and it would not be unreasonable to assume action against pirate camps might be one of those operations.

"We never talk about future possible operations and we're not going to start now," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Neither the official who spoke to FOX News nor Whitman would outright deny that planning is under way, however several Pentagon officials appear wary of getting into a military engagement in Somalia at this time.
Whiteman said such the successful end to the standoff could discourage future attacks but some members of the shipping industry worry that "if they were armed it could cause escalation."

"If the last couple of days have taught us anything, it reinforces the fact that this is a complicated and serious international problem that needs to be addressed broadly. ... This is not a problem that can be solved entirely from the sea. And this is not a problem that can be entirely solved through military means," he said.

While the Navy is being credited with a successful rescue, others have blamed the growth in piracy in part on the U.S. government. The U.S. African Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urging them to shepherd action through NATO, the European Union and the African Union to demand that ships entering Somalia and East African waters "be held accountable for truthful registration, declaration of exports, and payment of applicable taxes."

"The explosion of piracy and illegal activity off of the coast of Somalia in recent years began with the U.S. supported overthrow of the Somali government by Ethiopia," USACC President Martin Mohammad wrote. "The previous government provided Somalia with rule of law and a functional society. Since it was overthrown, Somalia's new central government has struggled to maintain the rule of law and the economic infrastructure has severely broken down, leaving the people of Somalia in dire conditions. It has also left the Somali coast unprotected."

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., offered his praised of the military but also said that piracy had long been neglected by the Bush administration.

"I am elated by the safe rescue of Captain Richard Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama and I thank and congratulate the Navy SEALS and others whose remarkable efforts resulted in a successful end to this troubling situation," Feingold said. "While the episode involving the crew of the Maersk Alabama had a happy ending, piracy off the coast of Somalia will assuredly continue since it is a symptom of the state collapse in Somalia, which presents a much greater and more dangerous problem. For years, Somalia's growing instability was neglected by the Bush administration and the international community. The new administration must not make the same mistake."

Mohammad said Clinton and Obama should push efforts to work with the international community in coordination with the people of Somalia to address the illegal entry of international vessels into Somali waters as much as curbing piracy.

The pirates who boarded the Maersk last Wednesday were quickly overthrown by the crew of the U.S.-flagged merchant ship. However, Phillips was captured and held in a lifeboat during the revolt. He tried to escape once but was recaptured by his four captives.

As the seas got rough on Sunday, the lifeboat, which was out of fuel, agreed to be towed by the USS Bainbridge, a Navy ship that was monitoring the situation.

By that time, the youngest of the pirates, identified as not older than 16, had boarded the larger vessel and surrendered. When Navy SEALS heard gunshots coming from the lifeboat, they were able to get clear views of the pirates and took three direct kill shots to each of the pirates' heads.

A diplomatic source told FOX News that the U.S. government is now weighing three options when it comes to handling the young pirate.

The Navy could either bring him to the U.S. to face federal charges there, hand him over to Kenyan authorities for prosecution. The U.S. and Kenya have a memo of understanding regarding the prosecution of pirates.

Another option is to repatriate him to Somali authorities. The northeast region of Puntland, which has a semblance of authority in the otherwise largely ungoverned country, has taken pirates in the past.
READ MORE - Navy Credited With Bold Rescue of U.S. Captain Held by Somali Pirates

Pirates Hold American Hostage for Ransom

U.S. Navy sailors from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) apprehend suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 11, 2009. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/U.S. Navy/DoD.)
MOGADISHU—Somali pirates holding an American hostage on a drifting lifeboat hauled him back when he jumped overboard to escape and vowed on Friday to fight any attack by U.S. naval forces stalking them at sea.
Meanwhile, pirates holding a foreign crew on a hijacked German ship also off the Somali coast were heading towards the lifeboat and intended to help their comrades in their standoff with U.S. naval forces, a pirate source said.
"Knowing that the Americans will not destroy this German ship and its foreign crew, they (the pirates) hope they can meet their friends on the lifeboat," the pirate source, who has given reliable information in the past, told Reuters from Haradheere port.
The pirates holding U.S. ship captain Richard Phillips want $2 million for his release, the source added.
Phillips leapt into the sea during the night, but at least one pirate quickly followed and brought him back, a defence source said.
"He didn't get very far," the official told Reuters.
The pirate gang holding Phillips far off the Somali coast in the Indian ocean since Wednesday remained defiant despite the arrival of U.S. and other naval ships in the area.
"We are not afraid of the Americans," one of the pirates told Reuters by satellite phone.
"We will defend ourselves if attacked."

First American Hostage

Maersk line Ltd, CEO, John Reinhart speaks to the media about the pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama off the East coast of Somalia on April 8, 2009.
Maersk line Ltd, CEO, John Reinhart speaks to the media about the pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama off the East coast of Somalia on April 8, 2009. (Gary Knapp/Getty Images)
Despite such militant talk, maritime groups tracking the saga—the first time Somali pirates have captured an American—say a more likely outcome is a negotiated solution, possibly involving safe passage in exchange for the captive.
The gang is also seeking a ransom, friends say.
Four pirates have been holding Phillips, a former Boston taxi driver, since Wednesday's foiled bid to hijack the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama several hundred miles off Somalia.
The ship's lifeboat has run out of fuel.
Two boats full of heavily armed fellow pirates have taken to sea in solidarity with the four on the lifeboat, but are too nervous to come near due to the presence of foreign naval ships including the USS Bainbridge destroyer which is up close.
"Other pirates want to come and help their friends, but that would be like sentencing themselves to death," said Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme that monitors the region's seas.
"They will release the captain, I think, maybe today or tomorrow, but in exchange for something. Maybe some payment or compensation, and definitely free passage back home."
Phillips is one of about 270 hostages being held at the moment by Somali pirates, who have been preying on the busy sea-lanes of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for years.
They are keeping 18 captured vessels at or near lairs on the Somali coast—five of them taken since the weekend alone.
Yet the fact Phillips is the first U.S. citizen seized, and the drama of his 20-man American crew stopping the Alabama being hijacked on Wednesday, has galvanised world attention.
It has also given President Barack Obama another foreign policy problem in a place most Americans would rather forget.

French Troops Attack Pirates, Free Ship

The MV Sirius Star sits in the Indian Ocean near Somalia after its owners paid a ransom to the pirates which held the vessel for two months. (Air Crewman 2nd Class David B. Hudson/U.S. Navy)
A French hostage died on Friday and four others were freed when French forces attacked pirates who had seized their yacht off Somalia, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement on Friday.
Two pirates were also killed in the military operation and three others seized.
The sailing boat, the Tanit, which was carrying two couples and a 3-year-old child was seized by the pirates far from the coastline of the African country on April 4.
Sarkozy's office said the child was saved by its forces but gave no details of who had died.
The statement said the French navy established contact with the pirates on Thursday. It added that a decision to launch a rescue operation was made after the pirates refused to accept their terms and tried to sail towards the coast.
"During the operation, a hostage sadly died," the statement said, adding: "(Sarkozy) confirms France's determination not to give into blackmail and to defeat the pirates."

Tricky History

The 23,000-tonne Norwegian-owned and Bahamian-registered M.V. Bow-Asir outbound from Rotterdam ws seized by pirates ion on March 26, 2009. (Fred Vloo/AFP/Getty Images)
Perched on the Horn of Africa across from the Middle East, Somalia has suffered 18 years of civil conflict since warlords toppled former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Americans remember with a shudder the disastrous U.S.-U.N. intervention there soon after, including the infamous "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993 when 18 U.S. troops were killed in a 17-hour firefight that later inspired a book and a movie.
Phillips apparently volunteered to get in the lifeboat with the pirates on Wednesday to act as a hostage for the sake of the Alabama's crew members, who somehow retook control of their ship.
The freighter, which is carrying food aid for Uganda and Somalia, is now on its way to its original destination, Mombasa port in Kenya. It is expected to arrive by Sunday night.
Separately, pirate sources said the Norwegian-owned, 23,000-tonne MT Bow Asir tanker captured at the end of March would be released shortly after a $2.4 million ransom was agreed with its owners. Salhus Shipping, which operates the vessel, declined to comment.
A regional official confirmed the deal, saying he expected the ship—with its 27 crew including a Norwegian captain, 19 Filipinos, five Poles, one Russian and one Lithuanian—to be released later on Friday or Saturday.
The USS Bainbridge has called on the FBI and other U.S. officials to help negotiate with the pirates.
U.S. military officials said more forces were on the way and all options were on the table to save the captain.
READ MORE - Pirates Hold American Hostage for Ransom
 
 
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