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Tuesday, February 21

Syria Sitrep

ISIS retreats from eastern Raqqa as Kurdish forces seize 8 villages in blitz offensive
; Chris Tomson, AMN, 21 February: 

After capturing dozens of villages in eastern Raqqa over the past week, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) followed up on Tuesday by seizing another 8 villages from collapsing Islamic State forces.

Effectively, the predominately Kurdish SDF were able to impose full control over Budayan, Naflah, Mukhkhah, Bir Qurat, Tal Sha’er, Mastur, Kuwaytar, Qaryat Sukkar and an important pipeline facility in the region. 

These villages are located on the provincial border between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor; due to the unprecedented advances that occurred on two flanks this morning, ISIS fighters in the villages of Al-Qarah and Bir Abu Tutah may soon face encirclement. 

The SDF offensive is heavily supported by US-led coalition airstrikes and represents phase III of the Euphrates Wrath campaign that ultimately looks to expel the Islamic State from Raqqa city itself. 

More gains are underway as we speak while ISIS militants appear to be completely retreating from the region without offering much resistance.

FARS - Sitrep - provinces
12:00 - 2/21/17
Syria in Last 24 Hours: Army Repels Attacks on Gov't Positions in Damascus

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian army soldiers repelled terrorists' massive attack on their positions in Damascus after hours of clashes, inflicting major losses on them.

The ISIL terrorists' large-scale attack to capture the government forces' positions in Eastern Ghouta was fended off by the strong defense of the Syrian military men.

Meantime, the Syrian army and popular forces continued their military advances in other parts of Syria, including Deir Ezzur and Homs, over the past 24 hours.

Tens of terrorists were killed and dozens more were injured during the Syrian army's operations in Syria's key provinces.


The Syrian army warded off an attack by the terrorist groups on government forces' military positions in Eastern Ghouta in Damascus province.

The Syrian army units beat back a group of terrorists who were trying to penetrate into Housh al-Zawahereh region in Eastern Ghouta, inflicting heavy losses on the militants.

Several terrorists were killed and wounded in clashes with the Syrian army.

Meantime, the Syrian air force targeted the terrorist groups' military positions in Douma in Damascus countryside, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists.

Syrian government troops targeted the terrorists' moves and gathering centers in the Western countryside of Damascus, inflicting tens of casualties on the militants.

The Syrian army units heavily pounded the terrorists' positions in the Southern parts of Beit Saber village in Western Damascus. The attack killed at least 5 militants and destroyed their weapons and ammunition in al-Zahr al-Aswad hill.

Also, the Syrian soldiers fired missiles at al-Nusra Front's (recently renamed to Fatah al-Sham Front) gathering center near the road leading to Moqr al-Mayer village in Southeastern Damascus, killing and injuring over 38 terrorists in the region.

Earlier on Monday, the Syrian army issued a last ultimatum to the terrorists stationed in Eastern Damascus to leave al-Qaboun and Barzeh al-Balad districts, field sources said.

The sources referred to the Syrian army troops' attacks against al-Nusra (Fatah al-Sham) Front positions in al-Qaboun district, and said ground attacks have not yet started and only some al-Nusra gathering centers have been targeted.

Meantime, local sources reported that the National Peace Committee has distributed several copies of the peace agreement among the terrorists in Barzeh al-Balad and al-Qaboun districts to persuade them to accept the government's granted amnesty.

Meantime, the Syrian army units launched missile attacks on al-Nusra centers in al-Qaboun and Tishreen districts, killing 7 militants and wounding tens of others.

The attacks also demolished the al-Nusra Front's command room in the region.


The Syrian army backed by the country's air force destroyed the gathering centers and movement of al-Nusra Front in Hama and Idlib provinces, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists and destroying their military bases.

The Syrian air force targeted and destroyed al-Nusra Front's military base in the village of al-Tamaneh in Southern Idlib, killing the terrorist group's senior commander Abdel Razzaq al-Ashhab.

Meantime, the Syrian army heavily pounded the terrorists in the town of Kafr Zita in Northern Hama, killing a number of terrorists and destroying their military vehicles.

Deir Ezzur

The Syrian army and its allies are just 500 meters away from Harabash district near Deir Ezzur military airport which has been besieged by the ISIL terrorists for two months now, a military source said on Monday.

"The ISIL is not deployed in the region which separates the army from Harabash and Deir Ezzur airbase but it has control over the region by launching attacks from Sariya Junaid, Tal al-Muhandesin and the power plant," the source said.

He also said that the Russian fighter jets attacked a number of ISIL Toyota vehicles near Hamdan airport in the Southern parts of Bu Kamal city in Eastern Deir Ezzur, and added, "The common border between Syria and Iraq has also witnessed Russia's airstrikes on ISIL's Toyota vehicles stationed at the entrance of the Syrian territories in the Southern parts of Mayadeen city."


The Syrian army ambushed and killed a large group of the ISIL terrorists in Eastern Hama, preventing dispatch of aid to their comrades in the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in Homs province.

The Syrian army forces clashed with the ISIL militants in Ithriya region after ambushing them and killed and wounded all the terrorists in the area.

They also seized three vehicles moving from Wadi al-Azib to al-Tanhaj village in the Eastern parts of Salamiyeh to send aid to the ISIL terrorists near Palmyra.

Meantime, the Syrian army units repelled militants' offensive in Ithriya and killed tens of them after heavy clashes. Several weapons belonging to the terrorists were also seized by the Syrian troops.



Somalia's Drought: Too many mouths to feed

From Somalia faces unprecedented drought; VOA, February 20:
... The U.N. has appealed for more than $800 million to deal with the drought. Yet Somaliland's own National Drought Committee has raised less than $7 million.
“What's coming from the international community, from the donors, even the local fundraisers, the way people are supporting, you find it's just a drop in the ocean. It's not contributing much,” said Mukhtar Mohumed Hassan, of the Save the Children aid group, which delivers water to wells and cash to those who lost all their animals.
Mohamed Musse, of Somaliland's National Environment Research and Disaster Preparedness agency, says the rest of the world is moving too slowly.
“We need help, and we need it immediately,” he said. “[By the time our appeal] goes all the way to New York, somebody approves, by that time people are dead, people are finished.”
For millions in Somalia, surviving the drought is a race against time.
If rains come in April the ones still alive will get a small reprieve; if the rains fail again......


Monday, February 20

Al Saud giving hi-tech weapons to Islamic State in Syria

Military Source: S. Arabia Continues Arms Aid to ISIL in Syria
February 20, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army forces blew up in the air a bomb-laden drone belonging to the ISIL in Deir Ezzur, a military source said, warning that the terrorist group is receiving advanced military equipment from Saudi Arabia now.

The source said that the drone was aimed to be used against the army positions that are under siege by ISIL, including al-Jourah, Tib al-Jourah and al-Qasour.

Noting that it seems the ISIL is in possession of a large number of drones which are equipped with electronic systems and devices, he said it is not clear how the ISIL gained such technical equipment but the ways that the terrorist group can transfer weapons and equipment are limited to the Southern parts of al-Anbar desert in Iraq which means that the ISIL still receives military aid from Saudi Arabia.

Former Norwegian ambassador to Riyadh said last week that Saudi Arabia is involved in financing the ISIL terror group and described the Middle-Eastern country as the kingdom of terrorism.

The ambassador, Carl Schiotz Wibye, said in remarks cited by a Norwegian newspaper, that Saudi Arabia has a strong influence on the spread of extremist ideology, but he fears that the West turns a blind eye on this matter.

Wibye described Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom of terrorism, noting that it has used its oil wealth to finance the spread of Wahhabism in the world, stressing on the importance for Norway to be more mindful about this issue, suggesting a way to curb extremism, which may be through the revival of the Progressive Party’s proposal to ban non-participated regimes in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights from financing any political or religious institution.

The Norwegian official has no doubt that Saudi Arabia has participated in funding ISIL terror group, citing that the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed in a leaked email on 2014 about “hidden money transfer” made by the Saudi regime.



Saturday, February 18

Pakistan has also shut Chaman border crossing in wake of Sufi shrine bombing

Yesterday I mentioned there were conflicting reports on whether Pakistan had shut one or two of the key border crossings to Afghanistan. The clarification comes today. The big question now is how long those vital crossings will be closed. A secondary question is whether U.S./NATO supplies are currently being held up by the gate closures.  

Pakistan shuts key border crossing in wake of shrine attack
February 18, 2017 - 3:54 AM EST
Associated Press via The Sacramento Bee

Pakistani authorities shut down a second key border crossing into Afghanistan, halting trade supplies to the neighboring landlocked country and increasing tensions between the two nations in the wake of a bloody suicide bombing at a beloved shrine in Pakistan, officials said Saturday.
The border closure at Chaman in southwest Baluchistan province came after an attack on a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday left 88 worshippers dead. The move was seen as an effort to pressure Kabul to take action against militants who Pakistan says have sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the border at Torkham hours after the bombing and the Chaman border was shut late Friday, said a senior army official.
A second official confirmed the details, saying trucks and shipping containers carrying trade supplies were parked miles away from the border crossings. Torkham connects Pakistan to Afghanistan's Nangarhar province and Chaman is located near Spin Boldak in Kandahar.
The Pakistani officials asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to brief the media on the record.
The latest developments come amid media reports that Pakistani troops backed by artillery targeted camps belonging to Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, near the Afghan border, causing an unspecified number of militant casualties.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed to have carried out a number of attacks, including the Feb. 13 suicide assault in Lahore that killed seven police officer and six civilians. Pakistan says Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the main Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant groups had been operating from Afghan areas near the Pakistani border and that Kabul in the past ignored Islamabad's pleas to take action against them.
Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister in the eastern Punjab province, announced late Friday the arrest of a suspect in connection with the Feb. 13 suicide bombing. He played a video containing what he said was the man's confession, in which the man says he was associated with Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and that he helped the bomber to carry out the attack.
Pakistan's military said Friday it summoned Afghan diplomats and handed over a list of 76 suspected "terrorists" who were hiding in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants immediate action by Afghan authorities, including the suspects' extradition to Islamabad.
In Kabul, the Afghan government Saturday summoned Pakistan's ambassador in protest of recent shelling in Afghanistan's eastern provinces. The foreign ministry summoned Ambassador Abrar Hussain in Kabul, where Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai sought an explanation from Hussain, but also gave his condolences regarding recent suicide attacks in Pakistan.
At least two people have been killed and two others wounded in the shelling from Pakistan, according to reports.
Karzai said the Afghan government wants Pakistan to take strict action against terrorists that are hiding in Pakistan.
He expressed concern over the closure of the Torkham and Chaman border crossings and asked that the gates be reopened. Apart from disrupting trade, the closure of border may also delay the repatriation of Afghan refugees by the refugee agency of the United Nations.
These refugees have been living in Pakistan since the 1980s after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say the country sheltered 5 million Afghan refugees at one time and there are still an estimated 1.3 million registered and over a million more unregistered living in the country. Pakistan has allowed registered refugees to remain in the country until the end of this year.
Also on Saturday, Afghan army chief of staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim, said his forces killed 1,955 Islamic State group fighters over the past year.
He told reporters in Kabul that he regretted that Pakistan attacked eastern Afghanistan with artillery fire and said "we have shared our concerns through diplomatic channels with Pakistani authorities. We are waiting for the response through the diplomatic channels; otherwise we are fully ready to defend our country."
To a question about the list of 76 "terrorists" given by Islamabad to Kabul, Shahim said they too gave such a list of terrorists to Pakistan in the past and hoped Pakistan will act against them because they were using Pakistani soil to launch attacks in his country.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy
Responsibility for the attack at Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine in Sehwan was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Pakistan security forces have launched nationwide operations that they say have left more than 100 "terrorists" dead.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article133559019.html#storylink=cpy

Nature vs Technology

Caption: "A golden eagle grabs a flying drone during a military training exercise at Mont-de-Marsan French Air Force base, Southwestern France, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau"

From Reuters Photos of the Week, February 17.

Incredible photography. I've seen a photo of an eagle with a drone in its claws after it brought down the drone, but never before a mid-air catch!  So I guess that's the resolution to the debate:  without technology we wouldn't be able to see as much of Nature in action as we do now. 


Friday, February 17

Tillerson clears out almost an entire floor of staff at State Dept. -- the top floor

Now, now, calling it a bloodbath is unkind. The bloodbath headline, from the New York Post, reflects a view of the layoffs which is very different from the one in the CBS report that broke the story.  Both reports are helpful, but here I'll run with the Post one after quoting just this much from CBS:
These [laid off] staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered.
Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.
There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats.
It's a bloodbath at the State Department
By Daniel Halper
February 17, 2017 | 9:16am
The New York Post

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is cleaning house at the State Department, according to a report.

Staffers in the offices of deputy secretary of state for management and resources as well as counselor were shown the door Thursday, according to CBS News.

Many of those let go were on the building’s seventh floor — top-floor bigs — a symbolically important sign to the rest of the diplomatic corps that their new boss has different priorities than the last one.

The staffing changes came as Tillerson was on his first foreign trip — attending a G-20 meeting in Bonn, Germany.

“As part of the transition from one administration to the next, we continue to build out our team. The State Department is supported by a very talented group of individuals, both Republicans and Democrats,” State Department spokesman RC Hammond told CBS.

“We are appreciative to any American who dedicates their talents to public,” he added.

This week’s round of firings marks the second time State Department personnel have been cleared out since President Trump took office last month.

Four top officials were cleared out of the building at the end of January.

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation,” a State Department spokesman said at the time.



The news media doesn't show normal life in Hama areas under Syrian government control

Syrian Perspective has the photographs, and much other news from Syria today.

Here's one of the photos:


Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Bezos has done huge business with CIA

This is actually an old story, from 2013, but it's made fresh again, I think because Mr Bezos has during the past couple years turned the Washington Post an overt outlet for anti-Russian propaganda, to the point where it can be considered an example of yellow journalism. Basically the editorial policy he's pursued since buying the Post in October 2013 has run the paper's reputation into the ground. 

I don't know enough about the details to say whether his purchase of the Post saved the paper from going out of business but if so, then perhaps his view is that the newspaper was dead anyhow so he could do with it what he wanted.

In any case, the Post is now so notorious that I don't even trust its weather reports. That's quite a comedown from the time the Post helped break the story on Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA, which was in June 2013. 

As to whatever happened to the petition mentioned in the following report -- [shrugging] 

See also Glenn Greenwald's January 11 report for The Intercept, The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer.         

Jeff Bezos Is Doing Huge Business with the CIA, While Keeping His Washington Post Readers in the Dark
By Norman Solomon
December 18, 2013

News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.
The Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon -- which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the Post’s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.
Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. That’s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy the Post four months ago.
And there’s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazon’s offer wasn’t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech “cloud” infrastructure.
Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and it’s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
As Amazon’s majority owner and the Post’s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.
Amazon has a bad history of currying favor with the U.S. government’s “national security” establishment. The media watch group FAIR pointed out what happened after WikiLeaks published State Department cables: “WikiLeaks was booted from Amazon’s webhosting service AWS. So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.”
How’s that for a commitment to the public’s right to know?
Days ago, my colleagues at RootsAction.org launched a petition that says: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon -- and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” More than 15,000 people have signed the petition so far this week, with many posting comments that underscore widespread belief in journalistic principles.
While the Post functions as a powerhouse media outlet in the Nation’s Capital, it’s also a national and global entity -- read every day by millions of people who never hold its newsprint edition in their hands. Hundreds of daily papers reprint the Post’s news articles and opinion pieces, while online readership spans the world.
Propaganda largely depends on patterns of omission and repetition. If, in its coverage of the CIA, the Washington Post were willing to fully disclose the financial ties that bind its owner to the CIA, such candor would shed some light on how top-down power actually works in our society.
“The Post is unquestionably the political paper of record in the United States, and how it covers governance sets the agenda for the balance of the news media,” journalism scholar Robert W. McChesney points out. “Citizens need to know about this conflict of interest in the columns of the Post itself.”
In a statement just released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, McChesney added: “If some official enemy of the United States had a comparable situation -- say the owner of the dominant newspaper in Caracas was getting $600 million in secretive contracts from the Maduro government -- the Post itself would lead the howling chorus impaling that newspaper and that government for making a mockery of a free press. It is time for the Post to take a dose of its own medicine.”
From the Institute, we also contacted other media and intelligence analysts to ask for assessments; their comments are unlikely to ever appear in the Washington Post.
“What emerges now is what, in intelligence parlance, is called an ‘agent of influence’ owning the Post -- with a huge financial interest in playing nice with the CIA,” said former CIA official Ray McGovern. “In other words, two main players nourishing the national security state in undisguised collaboration.”
A former reporter for the Washington Post and many other news organizations, John Hanrahan, said: “It's all so basic. Readers of the Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know -- and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online -- that the Post's new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon's $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA -- and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”
The rich and powerful blow hard against the flame of truly independent journalism. If we want the lantern carried high, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.
Norman Solomon is founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.  His latest book is War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

After a week of terror incidents, will Pakistan's military face reality?

In the wake of yesterday's suicide bombing in Sindh at one of the most important Sufi shrines in South Asia, which at last count has killed 88 including children and injured 200, Pakistan's military sprang into executive action. 

Within the past 24 hours the military has killed 100 terrorists in the country according to their announced count and rounded up many more, although one military source told Associated Press earlier that the number of killed was 39.   

As to how they managed such fast work, well obviously they knew where to look.  

They also closed one or two border crossings with Afghanistan, depending on which news report  you read. From the AP report:
... Pakistan fired a blistering round of artillery shells into Afghan territory and shut down the Torkham border crossing, a key commercial artery between the two neighbors.[*]
This reminds me of the parable of the man who searched outside for the keys he lost in his house because the light was better outside.

Anyone who can chew and walk knows the real story:
It doesn't help anybody to fixate on ... Afghanistan as being the only problem that we face. [While there are groups that use Afghan safe havens] the core problem Pakistan faces today is inside Pakistan. The network of terrorists exists in this country and the solution is also inside Pakistan.
That's from Mosharraf Zaidi, former security advisor to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry and columnist for Pakistan's News National Daily, who was interviewed today by Al Jazeera TV. However, the AJ anchor's first question to Zaidi was about Islamic State's presence in Pakistan.

Zaidi replied in part that the terror group has had a much larger presence in Pakistan than the military has been willing to acknowledge up to this point.

See the link below for the video of interview; you might have to reload the page to bring up the video.  

But now, with IS claiming responsibility for the Sufi shrine bombing, the Pakistani military has no choice but to acknowledge that the IS attacks in Pakistan have not been isolated incidents. And yet it is the homegrown terror groups operating openly in Pakistan for decades who pose the largest threat to the country. The question is whether the military's rampage over the past 24 hours is a sign of a changed attitude toward the groups, or just a cosmetic fix.

The bottom line is this:  the local terror groups have charitable organizations attached to them, which provide important services that the local and central governments in Pakistan are too cheap to provide.  

The second big factor is the same one that plagues Saudi Arabia:  there are large numbers of hardline clerics in Pakistan who are pampered by the government so they won't foment rebellion, and who provide justification for the terror groups. 

* Now as to whether the Torkham Gate crossing is used by U.S./NATO forces to truck supplies into Afghanistan, as far as I know, yes.  It would be interesting to learn whether Pakistan did indeed shut down a second border crossing, and if so whether that one is Chaman Gate, which is the other crossing used for bringing U.S. supplies into Afghanistan.

If both crossings are shut, well, we'd have to see for how long.

Army kills '100 terrorists' after Sehwan shrine blast
Friday, 17 February 2017 - 11:05am EST
Al Jazeera News

Military's claim follows deadliest attack in more than two years in country, targeting Sufis in Sehwan Sharif in Sindh.

Pakistan's army has killed more than 100 "terrorists" in less than 24 hours following a suicide blast at a Sufi shrine, the deadliest attack in the country in more than two years.
The killings, announced by the military's media office, come amid calls for more security in the country following a string of recent attacks.
In a statement released on Friday, the military said: "Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night and sizeable apprehensions also made."
A day earlier, at least 88 people were killed and hundreds were injured when a suicide attacker targeted Sufis as they performed a devotional ritual at the famous Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan, a town in the southern Sindh province.
"Army is for security," the military statement said. "We shall not let the hostile agenda succeed whatever it may cost."
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack in Sehwan.
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement: "It is time for us to unite and fight the radicals, wherever they may be ...  I direct and authorise my armed forces and law enforcement agencies to eliminate the enemy."

Afghanistan blame

Following the attack, Pakistan closed two border crossings with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has repeatedly blamed Afghanistan for giving safe haven to fighters on its side of the border.
Mosharraf Zaidi, former adviser to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, told Al Jazeera: "It doesn't help anybody to fixate on the problem of Afghanistan as being the only problem that we face."
While there are groups that use Afghan safe havens, the "core of problem Pakistan faces today is inside Pakistan", he added.
The "network of terrorists exists in this country", he explained, and the "solution is also inside Pakistan".
Thursday's attack came after one of the bloodiest weeks in recent memory in Pakistan, with more than 100 people killed in a series of attacks since Monday, the majority of which were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban or one of its factions.
On Monday, 13 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a rally in the eastern city of Lahore.
That attack was followed on Wednesday by a suicide bombing at a government office in the Mohmand tribal area and a suicide attack on government employees in Peshawar, killing six people.
Two police officers were killed on Tuesday while trying to defuse a bomb in the Balochistan provincial capital of Quetta.


Sufi shrine bombing: Death toll now 88

Pakistan shrine bombing: Death toll climbs to 88, children among dead
By Sophia Saifi, Adeel Raja and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Updated 8:53 AM ET - Fri February 17, 2017

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)The death toll rose to 88 on Friday from a suicide attack targeting the packed Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine [yesterday] in the southern city of Sehwan in Pakistan's Sindh province, a health official told CNN.
Sindh Health Secretary Fazal Pecheho also said the number of people injured in Thursday's attack had climbed to 200.
A local hospital official, Dr. Zahid Hussain, earlier told CNN that 24 of the dead were children aged four to eight. Another 16 of the victims were women, he said.
Thousands of worshipers, including families with their children, had gathered Thursday at the more than 800-year-old shrine for the Sufi ritual of Dhamal, which involves music, chanting and prayer.
The Islamic State Khorasan, ISIS' affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to CNN.

Prime Minister: 'Brutal' attack

In the aftermath of the blast, all the dead and injured were taken to the nearby 100-bed Sehwan Hospital, which was overwhelmed by the sudden influx of patients, Hussain told CNN.
Many have since been transferred to bigger hospitals in other cities of Sindh province, he said.
The Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with ISIS, reported the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber in an explosives vest.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack "brutal."
"I have directed all the state institutions to mobilize all resources for rescue and relief after this brutal terror attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar's shrine," Sharif said in a statement.
The Pakistani military said Friday that the capital, Islamabad, and its twin city of Rawalpindi had been put on high alert following "a recent upsurge in terrorist incidents in the country." As a result, schools in Islamabad and Rawalpindi closed early.
Search operations in the Rawalpindi area have been stepped up, according to the statement from the ISPR, the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Senior law enforcement agency officials also met Friday to assess the security situation and ways to respond to the terror threat.
"Security forces and intelligence outfits have been instructed to further intensify combing and targeted operations with the aim to eliminate terrorists and sleeper cells," the statement said.
Border closure
n a series of tweets, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor blamed operatives from Afghanistan for a recent spate of attacks on the country and urged the country to remain calm.
He later announced that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was "closed with immediate effects till further orders due to security reasons."
The office of the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter that he "condemns (the) terrorist attack in Pakistan and terms ISIS a common enemy of Afghanistan & Pakistan."
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs, tweeted that the Islamic State Khorasan poses an "enormous threat" to both the Afghan and Pakistani people and called for the two countries to work together to "eliminate" the extremist group.
The Sehwan attack comes days after a bomb exploded during a protest in Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday, killing at least 14 people and injuring 59 more, according to government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan.
Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of Pakistan's Tehreek-i Taliban (TTP) -- also known as the Pakistani Taliban -- claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement emailed to CNN.
CNN's Sophia Saifi and Adeel Raja reported from Islamabad and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Ray Sanchez and journalist Saleem Mehsud contributed to this report.


Thursday, February 16

Take it Easy Policy

Here it is again. And boy could we all use some take it easy policy after this mad week. Did I post the English translation the last time around? Well it's easy to find on the internet if you're interested. 

MTV Unplugged is still blocking bootleg versions of the video from YouTube, so fans of the song will have to make do with audio versions at YouTube. I think MTV keeps removing even the audio versions but that's a losing battle.

I find the constantly changing photos of A.R. Rahman on this audio video to be annoying but it has the best sound of the ones I've heard currently posted at YouTube. 

You know what I love most about the song? The crowd-sourced lyrics are great, but what blows me away every time is that the hippest instrumental sounds are from an ancient bowed stringed instrument. REALLY early predecessor of the violin. One of the riffs starts at the 2:10 minute mark.

[snapping her fingers in time to the beat] Take it easy.    


US SecState Tillerson opens door on US-Russia cooperation in Syria

Welcome to Washington, Mr Tillerson
But I thought you were called Mad "Dog"

This post should be read as a companion piece to an AP report I posted earlier today and headlined, "US SecDef Mattis slams door on US-Russia cooperation in Syria."

‘Productive’ 1st meeting: Lavrov & Tillerson discuss Syria & Ukraine, but not sanctions
16 Feb, 2017 -  15:34

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his first meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was productive, stressing that Moscow is ready to work with Washington on all issues as soon as Donald Trump’s foreign policy team is fully formed.

Lavrov and Tillerson talked at a G20 summit in Germany. It was the pair’s first meeting since Tillerson became Secretary of State, and came as a possible Russia-US rapprochement is in the spotlight.

“As soon as the teams in the State Department and the relevant agencies are formed, we expressed readiness to establish contacts,” Lavrov told journalists at the G20 summit in Bonn, Germany.

During his meeting with Tillerson, the situations in Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine was discussed, the FM said.

“On all those issues, our American colleagues said they’re interested in joining the efforts that are made to overcome those conflicts,” he stressed.

The sides “confirmed mutual interest, coinciding interests, first of all regarding the outright battle against terrorism and the political settlement in Syria,” as well as cooperation on other nations in the region “where terrorism took root,” Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, Washington’s sanctions against Moscow were not discussed during the meeting.

Lavrov Says Tillerson Ready to Support Syrian Peace Talks in Astana
19:28 - 16.02.2017

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ready to support Syrian peace talks in Astana.

"Tillerson expressed willingness to support this process [peace negotiations on Syria in Astana]," Lavrov said.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting with his US counterpart, Sergei Lavrov said that Russia and the US confirmed common interest on fight against terrorism.

"We have confirmed the existence of common interests… especially regarding the uncompromising fight against terrorism, in this context and in the context of a political settlement, and in what relates to cooperation on the Syrian crisis, on other regional countries where terrorism has taken its roots," Lavrov said.



US SecDef Mattis slams door on U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria

Mattis: US not ready to collaborate militarily with Russia

Feb 16, 2017 - 9:02 AM ET

(BRUSSELS) The U.S. is not ready to collaborate militarily with Russia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday, appearing to close the door for now on any effort to work more closely with Moscow in the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria.

His blunt rejection came after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for increased intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, and it makes such coordination less likely at least in the near future. Mattis followed his dismissal with a sharp assessment of Russia's alleged election meddling, saying there is "very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies."

His comments raised questions about the Trump administration's policies on Russia. As a candidate, President Donald Trump repeatedly praised Putin, saying he wanted a new era of cooperation with Moscow.

Speaking at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Mattis said the U.S. will continue to engage politically with Putin's government to try to find common ground.

Political leaders, Mattis said, will seek "a way forward where Russia, living up to its commitments, will return to a partnership of sorts here with NATO. But Russia is going to have to prove itself first."

The U.S. ceased military to military relations with Russia in the wake of Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. But last year, the Obama administration considered plans to cooperate militarily with Russia as part of a cease-fire deal in Syria.

Senior Defense Department leaders opposed the plan, and it quickly fell apart as the cease fire collapsed.

Also Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since Trump took office. Lavrov was asked if Russia is concerned about turmoil in the Trump administration. He repeated Moscow's standard line that Russia "does not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries."

Tillerson did not speak at the meeting on the sidelines of a conference of foreign ministers of Group of 20 major powers in Bonn, Germany.  [Pundita note: Tillerson and Lavrov spoke on the sidelines of the G20 conference. I think the reporter meant Tillerson didn't address the conference.]



Daesh claims responsibility for bomb at Pakistan Sufi shrine that kills 50, injures 100

Sputnik Breaking News:
 At least 50 were killed and 100 injured in an explosion in southern Pakistan, Express Tribune reported.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Earlier media reports said that some 30 were killed.
A suspected female suicide bomber blew herself up near a shrine in the town of Sehwan in southern Pakistan.
The television channel reported that a bomb had gone off during a religious ritual involving a large number of participants. The shrine is built around the tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi poet and philosopher.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the explosion.
[END REPORT. See website for video] 

What may be perverse good news about the Syrian War, plus breaking news

The formal part of the negotiations in Astana was postponed from yesterday to today, although there were informal talks on the 15th.  It's 4:00 PM in Astana so it could be a few more hours before we hear anything about the talks -- which, as with all negotiations the Syrian-Russian governments conduct with the opposition groups, is an attempt to peel away Syrian fighters from groups that are sponsored by foreign regimes or wealthy Syrian expats who have long opposed the present Syrian government.

While Staffan de Mistura is not in attendance at the Astana talks, he sent five reps from the UN to observe and report back, in preparation for the UN-led negotiations in Geneva. These are scheduled to start formally on February 23.

In the weeks running up to the planned Geneva talks all hell broke loose, as NATO/Arab Gulf- controlled media outlets and ngos hurled at the public every bit of dirt they could find or make up about the Syrian-Russian government prosecution of the Syrian War.

It's happened before, but this time opponents of a Syrian government-brokered peace have pulled out all the stops. I'm wondering whether there's a new reason for this. 

Wait, I think I have gotten an answer from breaking news at Sputnik; I just went there to look for any early statements about the Astana talks:

Clashes Between Syrian Gov't and Moderate Opposition Forces Ended - Shoigu

Clashes between the Syrian government and moderate opposition forces have fully stopped, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated during his meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

He also stated that the fights were fully eliminated with the help of the conflict sides and the mediators.
"We hope to further build a constructive dialogue with the opposition. All in all, progress we made after December 29 [nationwide ceasefire], progress we have now — this scenario is much better than it used to be. The amount of shellings has significantly fallen, direct clashes have stopped completely," he stated.
Russia hopes for a roadmap on separating terrorists from the moderate opposition in Syria at ongoing ceasefire talks in Astana, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also said.
"We hope that decisions to draw up a single Syrian map and approve it will be made today [at talks in Astana], a map where we will finally secure all the information given to us by the Syrian opposition and government where we precisely define the location of the moderate opposition that joined the ceasefire and those that did not join it," Shoigu said.
The delegations to the talks on Syria in Geneva should be formed more thoroughly for productive work, the Russian Defense Minister stated.
"Of course, we all hope that the meeting that you organize in Geneva, we fully support it… We hope that those people who really want to solve the problems, and not just to discuss this subject gather there," Shoigu said.
He underscored the importance of locating the positions of the Daesh jihadist group and the ex-Nusra Front, both outlawed in Russia, and stressed that Russia will continue anti-terrorist efforts in alliance with the moderate Syrian opposition, Turkey, and Iran.
Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the Syrian government forces and Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army have agreed on a demarcation line in the city of al-Bab, where both Damascus and the rebels are currently conducting an operation to free the area from Daesh.

All right. From all the reporting on kinetic battles I've seen in the past couple weeks, it could be that the major part of the Syrian War is winding down. That could explain redoubled attempts to demonize the Syrian and Russian governments. If I'm right, the attempts are actually good news, in a perverse sort of way, if they imply the enemy governments had realized peace was at hand.

We'll know soon. If you're inclined to pray, please take a moment to pray for a good and speedy end to the Syrian War. Peace-loving Syrians have suffered enough.


Wednesday, February 15

Putin tampers with presidential election in Limpopo

"President Ai Bolyt from Lim-Po-Po country… Russian fairy tales are becoming truth. God, don't leave America!"
-- Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson

Two notorious Russian pranksters figured that if U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters believed the Russians had invaded "Korea" she might fall for even bigger whoppers. She did


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