Pentagon agency wants individual operators to control multiple drones that hunt in packs, like wolves

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. military is preparing for a series of meetings that could shake up how the Pentagon flies its fleet of drone aircraft and move them toward hunting together in packs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will host the gatherings in March for its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program, it said this week. The major emphasis: Figuring out a way to move free of having a pilot operate only one drone with assistance from a sensor operator and a team of intelligence analysts through satellite links.

“Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, the program’s manager, in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon pretends its business as usual in Yemen — no interruption in drone strikes

The Guardian reports: The Pentagon and the White House are pushing back on reports that the Obama administration is pausing drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations in Yemen, amidst the abrupt collapse of a critical partner government.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said both “unilateral and partnered” operations conducted by the US in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “are not suspended”.

Continuing “partnered” strikes with the Yemenis provides a signal that the US still considers itself to have reliable allies on the ground to spot for drone strikes and aid in other attacks on an al-Qaida affiliate observers fear will capitalize on the unfolding unrest in the country.

Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said reports that counterterrorism in Yemen was on hold were “completely false”.

“As we have in the past, we will continue to take action to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens. We also continue to partner with Yemeni security forces in this effort,” Baskey said.

But as Houthi rebels marching on the capital of Sanaa have upended Yemeni politics and created uncertainty about continued cooperation with the US, Kirby said the military had “temporarily put on hold some training with the Yemenis”. [Continue reading…]

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Iona Craig talks about the crisis in Yemen

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Yemen: Thousands protest Houthis’ control of Sanaa

Al Jazeera: Thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of Sanaa to protest against the Houthi group’s control of the capital, two days after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s resignation left the country in political limbo.

The demonstration on Saturday came as regions in the formerly independent south stepped up their defiance after the Shia Houthi fighters, who hail from Yemen’s northern highlands, tightened their grip on Sanaa.

Witnesses said up to 10,000 people marched from Sanaa University towards Hadi’s home and back, repeating chants denouncing both the Houthi group and predominantly Sunni al-Qaeda.

“Down, down with the Houthis’ rule,” chanted protesters who rallied following a call by the Rejection Movement – a group recently formed in provincial areas to challenge the Houthi group.

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Argentina’s government claims former spy was involved in prosecutor’s death

The New York Times reports: Argentina’s government asserted on Friday that an ousted spymaster was involved in the murky events around the death of the prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s chief of staff claiming that the prosecutor did not even write a complaint accusing her and top aides of subverting his inquiry.

“It contains horrors that are impossible to commit from a legal point of view,” Aníbal Fernández, the president’s chief of staff, said in a telephone interview referring to the 289-page complaint filed by Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor found dead here from a gunshot wound to the head on Sunday, the day before he was to testify before lawmakers about his accusations.

The death of Mr. Nisman, 51, who had been investigating for a decade the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in which 85 people were killed, has upended Argentina’s political establishment, exposing Mrs. Kirchner to a barrage of criticism over the prosecutor’s accusations while revealing upheaval in Argentina’s main intelligence agency. [Continue reading…]

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Mosul residents describe ‘hell’ of ISIS occupation as Kurdish fighters close in

The Guardian reports: Few people dare talk to the media, and those who do speak only on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals against themselves and their families. Only a trickle of information comes out of Mosul besides Isis’s own slick propaganda.

Civilians inside the city – from taxi drivers to housewives, students to shopkeepers – paint a gloomy picture of life there. “All I can say is that life under Daesh [Isis] is hell, not heaven as they claim,” said Tariq, who used to study at a technical institute before Isis took over. “We can’t study and we don’t know what the future holds for us.”

A shopkeeper near Nabi Yunus mosque, which was destroyed by Isis last July, said he was weary of life under Isis but saw no way out. “If you want to leave Mosul you need three people to guarantee that you will come back after five days. If you don’t return, you put their lives at risk.”

The shopkeeper said many militants killed or injured fighting in Sinjar had been brought back to Mosul. “I have been forced to give blood three times,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS defectors try to escape from Raqqa headquarters

Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently: The execution of two fighters from Saudi nationality has puzzled a lot of ISIS fighters, while others decided to return to their homes, especially the fighters from Arabic Gulf nationalities.

A source from within the organization told the campaign of “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently” that on January 19 ISIS has executed two immigrant fighters from Saudi nationality on the hands of who named “Abu Islam Anbari” in the camp of “Alekershi” on charges of looking for their passports more than once.

Other immigrant fighters started questioning the sudden disappearance of their companions, but the leaders of the organization didn’t justify the reason, after that unjustified disappearance, dozens of immigrants mostly carrying Saudi nationality have left the city, ISIS announced full alert all over the city and its countryside to look for them.

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Can Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hold Iraq together?

Christian Science Monitor reports: The challenge facing Abadi was always going to be herculean: how to overcome years – even decades – of sectarian divisions in Iraq, made worse by the unabashedly Shiite-first policies of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

“I think everybody now, in the political spectrum and the country, recognizes this is the last chance for Iraq to survive as we know it,” says Vice President Ayad Allawi, himself a former prime minister. And yet that realization, he adds, hasn’t focused Iraq’s political minds enough.

“Until now, this inclusivity is theoretical rather than actual,” says Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as interim prime minister from 2004 to 2005 and whose Iraqiya bloc has included top Sunni politicians.

“In parallel with this military effort, we need a political effort, which is not existing until now,” says Allawi. The areas where IS is operating need to be “immunized” by ensuring equal citizenship for Sunnis and mobilizing them to fight IS themselves, “not to be disenfranchised, ignored, and punished. And unfortunately this is not happening.” [Continue reading…]

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If EU opposes Islamophobia, it must accept Turkey as member, says Erdogan

Hurriyet Daily News: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that the European Union “must admit Turkey” as a member if it opposes Islamophobia.

Erdoğan became the first Turkish President who visited Djibouti on Jan. 24, one day after he interrupted his Horn of Africa tour to attend King Abdullah’s funeral in Saudi Arabia. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh welcomed his Turkish counterpart at the Djibouti City airport.

Turkish President, who had visited Ethiopia as the first stop of his tour, touched upon a number of foreign policy issues during his joint press conference with Guelleh, which was attended by the members of the large Turkish delegation that included cabinet members such as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Stressing that the past decade saw the deaths of thousands of Muslims in the region, Erdoğan slammed the “coup-makers” in Egypt. “3,000 Muslims were killed in one day. It is unprecedented in recent history,” Erdoğan said, criticizing the Egyptian government for the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We host 1,700,000 Syrians. We spent $5.5 billion so far,” Erdoğan continued, before stressing that the international community contributed with just $250 million. “The total number of Syrian refugees in Europe is 130,000″ he added. “The world watches [Syria] as a spectator. The dominant powers, the EU, they all just watch it. And whom they strike at? Muslims…”

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Turkish ministry paves way for trial of 16-year-old boy over ‘insulting’ president

Hurriyet Daily News: Turkey’s Justice Ministry has approved the trial of a 16-year-old boy, who was detained on charges of insulting the president, in a controversial case that sparked national outcry when he was detained in December.

The teenager, identified only by his initials M.E.A., will appear in a juvenile court on March 6 in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, facing one to four years of jail time.

A member of an online youth group calling themselves Democratic High School Students, M.E.A. is accused insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for reportedly saying that he considered him “the leader of corruption, bribery and theft” during a public speech delivered in his hometown Konya.

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Former Miss Turkey, 26, facing trial after being arrested for posting satirical poem that criticised Erdogan

The Daily Mail: A former Miss Turkey is facing trial for posting a satirical poem on social media that criticised her country’s president.

The arrest of Merve Buyuksarac, 26, follows a crackdown in the country on critical media in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris.

Armed Turkish police last week stopped delivery lorries leaving a newspaper’s offices to make sure that they had not included section of the French satirical magazine that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although officially Turkey is secular, 99.8 per cent of the population are registered as Muslim and there has been heated debate over freedom of expression in the wake of the Paris massacres.

Now it appears the Turkish crackdown is extending not just to monitoring the media, but also to its readers.

Officials confirmed that the model had been taken before prosecutors and questioned over the social media posting that they said had insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Merve, an educated young professional who works as an industrial designer and writer, ended up in court in the Caglayan neighbourhood of the western city of Istanbul.

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Music: Avishai Cohen — ‘Lost Tribe’

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Why the Palestinians are finally giving up on Obama and the U.S. peace process

Zack Beauchamp writes: “If you want,” PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi offered, “I can call him right now.” The “him” in question was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This was mid-November 2014; I was with a group of journalists in Ashrawi’s Ramallah office, and we were all asking her about the dramatic flameout of John Kerry’s effort to produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in late April. Ashrawi decided to phone a friend — President Abbas — to answer our questions. And Abbas, as it turned out, was in a talkative mood.

Abbas told a story about Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace talks that differed greatly from what other participants have said publicly. But what was in many ways more important than the details of his story was the attitude it conveyed toward the US: a total collapse in trust. The senior Palestinian leadership has come to believe that the United States is utterly incapable of budging Israel in negotiations and thus of bringing peace. Long-simmering Palestinian frustration with America, which Palestinians have always seen as hopelessly biased towards Israel, has finally bubbled over.

The new Palestinian approach is a sharp break with the past. For over 20 years since the historic 1993 Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians, there’s been one dominant strategy on all sides for achieving peace in the Holy Land: direct, American-mediated talks between the two sides. The US-led negotiations of 2014, known as the Kerry talks, were in part a last-ditch effort to keep that process alive. The Palestinians had already begun moving away from the old model of talking directly with the Americans and Israelis and towards a campaign to isolate and pressure Israel internationally. But it looked to many like the Palestinians were bluffing, or only hedging — trying to bring more pressure to direct peace talks, not sidestep them. [Continue reading…]

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How the Republicans in Congress will help Netanyahu get re-elected

Nahum Barnea writes: The invitation Netanyahu received from United States House of Representative Speaker John Boehner, to address a joint session of the two houses of Congress, is a brilliant electoral trick.

Netanyahu will deliver the speech on February 11, five weeks before Election Day. The room will be filled to the brim. The audience will interrupt the speech with rapturous applause 23 times, and diligent spokespersons will stress that this is a number which has not been seen since foreign leaders began addressing the Congress. Senators will praise and glorify the man and the speech, and will glance as they speak at the gallery of distinguished guests, to make sure that the billionaire writes the check.

Will the Israelis who watch the show on television, live from Washington, be impressed? Of course they will. Netanyahu knows how to impress. One of the Likud leaders once told me that even when Netanyahu had reached a low point, both among the broad public and in his own party, people were amazed when they heard him speak clear American, with all the manners. “Listen to that English,” they said. “Listen to that English. Just like an American.”

Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to be aided by the American political system on his way to the polls. It’s wrong and it harms the purity of the democratic process, but it’s the reality. There are pressing interests on both sides, and there is a lot of temptation. One can only take comfort in the fact that in most cases these attempts fail.

But Netanyahu is taking it one step further this time. There has never been a deal like the one struck here: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It’s dangerous. It’s poisonous. It’s not so amusing anymore. [Continue reading…]

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Satire shouldn’t promote ignorance

Alex Andreou writes: In the wake of recent attacks in France, a rule of thumb appears to be emerging: of course we should be free to mock Islam, but we should do it with respect. This might seem irreconcilable, but in practice is perfectly achievable.

Satire has been a tool for expanding the boundaries of free expression since Aristophanes. It does so most effectively by being hyper-aware of those boundaries, not ignorant of them. When it is done with the sole intention to offend it creates disharmony. When the intention is to entertain and challenge, the effect is quite the opposite.

Recently I played Arshad – a sort of cuddly version of Abu Hamza – in David Baddiel’s musical rendering of The Infidel: a farce in which a British Muslim discovers he is adopted and is actually Jewish, on the eve of his son’s nuptials to a fundamentalist’s daughter. The entire cast and creative team were obsessively attentive to religious detail, both Muslim and Jewish. Precisely how do women tie the niqab? What is the correct pronunciation and meaning of HaMotzi? With which hand would a Muslim hold the Qur’an, and how? Which way is the tallit worn, and why? Hours of research and discussion.

Backstage, after a particular scene in which we did a stylised cipher based on morning prayers, we folded our prayer mats carefully and put them away respectfully. They were just props, so why did it matter? Because they looked like prayer mats and seeing them discarded grated on members of the team who came from a Muslim background – even if they were not religious. Such instincts are deeply ingrained.

All this may seem precious, especially when one is about to launch into a ska musical number entitled Put a Fatwa on It, but it is not. The point is artistic control. You want to challenge an audience in precisely the way you intended – not because you are eating with the wrong hand. One is not careful out of a fear to offend, but out of a fear to offend randomly. Just because something is a legitimate target does not mean that one should have a go at it with a rocket launcher. Rockets inflict collateral damage. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen chaos threatens U.S. counterterror efforts, including drone program

The Washington Post reports: The White House’s strategy for fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen — repeatedly presented as a model by President Obama — was left in tatters Thursday by the resignation of the man who personally approved U.S. drone strikes in the country and the collapse of its central government.

U.S. officials struggled to sort out a melange of reports about who, if anyone, is in charge in Yemen. The prospect of continued chaos cast doubt on the viability of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy for Yemen and whether it can still count on local help against al-Qaeda.

“A dangerous situation just went from bad to worse with grave implications for our counterterrorism efforts,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Our relationship with the Yemen government has been vital in confronting [al-Qaeda] and keeping the pressure on its leadership, and every effort must be made to continue that partnership.”

As recently as September, Obama had cited his Yemen strategy as a template for confronting jihadist threats in other places, including Iraq and Syria. Instead of sending large numbers of troops to fight al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country directly, the Pentagon has limited its presence to a small number of trainers to teach and equip Yemen’s security forces. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-ISIS conference excludes main group fighting against ISIS: the Kurds

Rudaw reports: The Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said he was disappointed that the Kurdistan Region was not invited to the anti-ISIS coalition conference in London where on Thursday world leaders pledged to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).

“I express my and Kurdistan people’s disappointment with the organizers of this conference and it is unfortunate that the people of Kurdistan do the sacrifice and the credit goes to others,” said Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani in a statement.

Leaders of 21 coalition states gathered in London to stress their commitment against ISIS and the impact coalition air strikes have made against the radical group.

Barzani said that Kurdistan was leading the war against ISIS and it deserved to be present in such meetings.

“The people of Kurdistan bear the brunt of this situation and no country or party can represent or truly convey their voice in international gatherings,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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France admits soldiers have deserted to ISIS, including ex-elite special forces and French foreign legionnaires

The Telegraph reports: Several French former soldiers have joined the ranks of jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the country’s government confirmed on Wednesday, as it outlined a series of new anti-terrorism measures following the Islamist attacks in Paris.

Most of the ex-soldiers, reportedly numbering around 10 and including former paratroopers and French foreign legionnaires, are said to be fighting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Most worrying is the reported presence of an ex-member of France’s elite First Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, considered one of Europe’s most experienced special forces units and which shares the “Who Dares Wins” motto of the SAS.

The unnamed individual, of North African origin, had received commando training in combat, shooting and survival techniques. He served for five years before joining a private security company for which he worked in the Arabian peninsula, where he was radicalised before heading for Syria, according to L’Opinion, a news website. [Continue reading…]

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