-BIG PICTURE…The various U.N. efforts aren’t working. The sanctions haven’t done the job. Even last week’s attack on the highest echelons of Assad’s regime and the fighting in Damascus have yet to drive the Syrian President from power; for now he has weathered the storm. Now, as one American analyst puts it, the U.S. and its allies are hoping and preparing for the “controlled demolition” of the Assad regime. Good luck with the “controlled” part of that. And among the risks of an uncontrolled breakdown, there are these: a war between the various ethnic groups – all of whom have powerful proxies in the region; a huge flow of refugees; jihadists taking hold in a vacuum of power and authority; and of course those chemical weapons stockpiles. “No one knows what the end is,” another analyst said. “It’s all about mitigating the risks.”
-POWERFUL IMAGES OF THE FIGHTING…Dramatic video has emerged overnight as the fighting in Aleppo rages. At the two-minute mark in this footage, a large blast is heard, before a flaming tank comes into view and the driver, a Syrian soldier, opens the hatch and makes a jump for it. Meanwhile, APTN moved video overnight from Syrian state TV that shows images of Syrian forces going house to house and kicking down doors in Damascus, searching for any remaining rebel fighters. The BBC’s Paul Wood is near Damascus, reporting that government forces have recaptured parts of the capital, the suburbs of Barzeh and Mezzeh, which had fallen into rebel hands.
-ARAB LEAGUE OFFERS ASSAD ‘SAFE PASSAGE’…Arab League foreign ministers have called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, promising a “safe exit” as rebels say they are encouraged by last week’s assassinations in Damascus. Assad himself appeared on Syrian state TV yesterday, swearing in a new top official.
-REGIME SAYS IT WON’T USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS…AGAINST ITS OWN PEOPLE…Alex MARQUARDT reports that a Syrian government spokesman this morning says that the government will “never, ever” use chemical weapons against their own people, only against an external threat.
-AMERICA TRYING – SECRETLY – TO PUSH ASSAD OUT…The Wall Street Journal details the United States’ recent efforts to do what it can to push Bashar al-Assad from power. Among these: limiting and blocking arms and oil shipments from Iran to Syria. A centerpiece of the effort this year focused on getting Iraq to close its airspace to Iran-to-Syria flights that U.S. intelligence concluded were carrying arms for Assad loyalists—contrary to flight manifests saying they held cut flowers. The U.S. has also tried to keep ships believed to carry arms and fuel for Syria from traversing the Suez Canal, with mixed results.
-ANATOMY OF AN ATTACK: NEW TALIBAN VIDEO SHOWS ATTACK ON US AIR BASE…Muhammad LILA reports: The Taliban have released a chilling, hour-long video showing the detailed planning and execution of an attack against Sahrabagh Airbase, the third-largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. It includes: Footage of militants wearing US combat fatigues, militants analyzing satellite photos of the base, interviews with the commander and the driver of the truck bomb, and the huge, 10-ton bomb blast caught from three separate camera angles. It’s a rare, stomach-turning look behind the scenes at how the Taliban conduct major operations.
-U.S. TROOP DRAW DOWN HITS HALFWAY MARK…Half of the 23,000 troops scheduled to leave Afghanistan this year have already left the country, according to top U.S. Commander General John Allen. The other half will likely all be gone by mid-September. By October 1, there will be 68,000 troops left in the country, fighting alongside roughly 350,000 Afghan security personnel. Another interesting tidbit from his remarks: In order for NATO to withdraw in 2014, one shipping container has to leave the country roughly every seven minutes.
-”GREEN ON BLUE” ATTACK…The Taliban have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s Green on Blue incident, where a man in an ANSF uniform opened fire and killed three American contractors at a police training facility in Herat.
IRAQ: BLOODIEST DAY OF THE YEAR
In a coordinated display intended to show they remain a viable force, Iraqi insurgents launched at least 40 separate attacks on Monday, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 300 more. Mazin FAIQ in Baghdad reports that Iraqi police say gunmen have killed 13 soldiers on an army base in the country’s northeast, the latest of the attacks, bringing the nationwide death toll to the highest of any day this year. The bombing began in the early morning, mostly between 6 and 10 a.m. local time. Car bombs were set off from Taji and Husseiniya north of Baghdad, to Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, and Tuz in western Salahuddin province, Dujail in southern Salhuddin, and Balad, northeast of the capital, according to accounts from local police, hospital and Iraqi Army officials. They also struck in Mosul and Kirkuk in the north, and Diwaniyah province in the south. The spate of terror comes one day after the first online statement from the new leader of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq, which claimed that the militant network is returning to the old strongholds from which it was driven by U.S. forces and their Sunni allies prior to the American withdrawal at the end of last year, and that it is preparing operations to free prisoners and assassinate court officials.
FROM THE SUN: FAKE PASSPORT SCAM
The Sun tabloid in the UK uncovered what it calls a “terror visas” racket, based in Pakistan. They sent an operative undercover to a Lahore-based travel agency, which was able to procure a valid Pakistani passport under a false name for just £600. The same travel agency then introduced the operative to a shady Pakistani politician, who boasted he could secure a travel visa to the UK – under the guise of being a support worker for Pakistan’s Olympic team – for £7,000. UK officials say the list of athletes and officials was vetted a long time ago, and has several safeguards preventing fraud.
HOW LOW WILL THE EURO GO?
U.S. stocks are falling, and this morning the Euro plunged to its lowest level against the yen since November 2000. Analysts tell the Wall Street Journal it’s likely to continue falling this week amid new worries about Spanish debt. Market concerns throughout Europe were compounded by calls for financial help from across Spain, the fourth-biggest European economy, now facing skyrocketing borrowing costs. Investors worry Spain will follow Greece, Portugal and Ireland in needing lifelines from international lenders. Meanwhile the US dollar has climbed more than four percent so far this year. All this comes one day after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi told Le Monde that the Euro is “absolutely not” in danger. “The euro is irrevocable,” he added.
AL SHABAB SAYS IT KILLED CIA INFORMANTS
From Bazi KANANI in Nairobi: Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab says it killed three of its own members who were helping U.S. and British intelligence agencies. A resident in the coastal town of Merca told the Associated Press an Al Shabab firing squad executed the three men publically on Sunday. An Al Shabab spokesperson told Reuters two of the men were CIA informants who helped the U.S. discover the location of Al Shabab leaders who were then killed in drone strikes earlier this year. In addition to covert operations in the country, the U.S. is helping to fund and train African Union troops who are fighting to push Al Shabab insurgents out of Somalia.
NORWAY PAUSES, SPRINGSTEEN HELPS HEALING
Norway on Sunday paused to commemorate the 77 victims of a bomb and gun massacre that shocked the peaceful nation one year ago, a tragedy that the prime minister said had brought Norwegians together in defense of democracy and tolerance. In a wreath-laying ceremony at the bomb site, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Breivik had failed in his declared goal of destroying Norway’s commitment to being an inclusive, multicultural society. ”The bomb and the gun shots were meant to change Norway,” Stoltenberg told a somber crowd of a few hundred people at the ceremony. “The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won.” The mood lifted as more than 50,000 people gathered for a rain-soaked memorial concert outside Oslo’s waterfront City Hall. After performances by Norwegian artists, Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance with an acoustic rendition of “We shall overcome.” Springsteen had performed in Oslo on Saturday as part of his European tour.
“OSPREY, BACK TO AMERICA”
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Protestors greeted the arrival of the U.S. military’s Osprey aircraft in the city of Iwakuni today. The Osprey deployment has become the latest rallying point for base opponents here – and recent accidents involving the aircrafts, have created a major headache for US and Japanese officials who are trying to calm anti-base sentiments. All morning shows carried the transport of a dozen Osprey live, treating it like the arrival of enemy forces. Local protestors boarded small boats, chanting “Osprey, go back to America,” while hundreds in Okinawa staged sit-ins outside the base where the aircraft are scheduled to be deployed. Opponents have argued that the planes are not safe – pointing to a crash in Morroco last April, and one in Florida last month. Demonstrations against the Osprey have become so heated, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo felt the need to issue a statement, defending its safety record.
CUBAN DISSIDENT PAYA DIES IN CAR CRASH
Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya, who spent decades speaking out against the communist government of Fidel and Raul Castro and became one of the most powerful voices of dissent against their half-century rule, died Sunday in a car crash, fellow dissidents said. He was 60. Elizardo Sanchez, a human rights advocate on the island and de facto spokesperson for Cuba’s small opposition, said he confirmed Paya’s death with his associates in the city of Bayamo, 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of the capital. The circumstances of the crash are not clear. Paya, who drew strength from his Roman Catholic roots as he pressed for change in his homeland, continued to voice his opposition after Fidel resigned due to illness in early 2008, calling the passing of the presidency to younger brother Raul a disappointment.
DEADLY FLOODING IN BEIJING
Karson YIU reports from Beijing: China’s flood-ravaged capital is dealing with the aftermath of the heaviest rain in six decades Monday, including the deaths of 37 people, with questions being raised about whether the city’s push for modernization came at the expense of basic infrastructure such as drainage networks.
-MICHELLE OBAMA…First lady Michelle Obama holds a teleconference today to discuss her role as head of the Presidential delegation to the games.
-ISRAEL TERROR FEARS…The NY Post and others report that Israel is bracing for possible terror plots against its citizens at the Olympics in London — amid fears of a reprise of the infamous massacre at the 1972 Munich Games and heightened alert after last week’s deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria.
-HEY HONEY, HOW DO YOU HANG ON TO THAT BAR?…Sticky fingers, literally, may just be the key to a medal in the parallel bars. As the Wall Street Journal reports the Olympic gymnast’s arsenal has come to include “honey, molasses, Lyle’s Golden Syrup or pretty much any other substance one might serve over pancakes.” (Sweet!)
-The WSJournal also has an interesting piece London betting houses cashing in on Olympic sport gambling .. and the vagaries therein.
-Another lighter note – the Daily Mail has an article on the arrival of the mega-rich and their super-yachts.