The Global Note: Afghanistan “Insider Attacks”…Jihadists in Syria…Japan, China, & Island Angst…The “Alternative” Olympics

By Tom Nagorski

Aug 20, 2012 10:51am

AFGHAN WAR

-”INSIDER ATTACKS”…It’s a remarkable show of top U.S. brass today – and a sign of just how worried the U.S. military is over the recent spate of attacks on American troops by the Afghans they’ve trained – and trusted.  Mike BOETTCHER reports from Kabul: The U.S. military’s top general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, is meeting with senior officials in Afghanistan in an attempt to find a solution to the wave of attacks. With Dempsey are overall Command chief General James Mattis and General John Allen, Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. In the last twelve days, ten American soldiers have been killed in these so-called ‘insider’ attacks in Afghanistan. It has gotten so bad that U.S. troops are being told to carry fully loaded weapons at all times. The fundamental question – for the more than 80,000 American troops still in Afghanistan: Can you trust the Afghan soldier at your side?

-IED ATTACKS ALSO ON THE RISE…Insurgent bombings against Afghan troops have jumped 76% in the past year, while U.S. casualties have dropped sharply over the same time in part because of better defenses against the explosives. USA Today reports that the spike in improvised explosive attacks against Afghan troops reflects their growing role fighting the Taliban insurgency, while U.S. forces are stepping back from some of the fighting. In Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, Afghan troops have taken on an increasingly larger share of the fight. From mid-March to mid-July, 147 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in action in the Helmand region, up from 57 in the same period in 2011, according to Regional Command Southwest. During that time, 31 coalition troops were killed in action, down from 50 troops in 2011.

-2012: OVERALL TOLL…Overall, U.S. deaths in Afghanistan this year totaled 221 through Thursday, down from 292 for the same period in 2011.

SYRIA’S WAR

-IN CRADLE OF REVOLT, FIGHTING RAGES…Syrian activist groups say fighting between rebels and regime forces has killed six people, including two children and two women, in the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the country’s 18-month-old uprising. Monday’s violence in Daraa was reported by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination committees.

-THE JIHADISTS…From The Washington Post: A shadowy jihadist organization that first surfaced on the Internet to assert responsibility for suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus has stepped onto the front lines of the war for Syria’s cities. In Aleppo, the al-Nusra Front for the Protection of the People of the Levant, widely known as the Jabhat al-Nusra, is fielding scores of fighters, some of them foreigners, in the battle for control of Syria’s commercial capital, a key prize in the bitter war of attrition being waged across the country. The group, suspected of affiliations to al-Qaeda, says it is also fighting in the cities of Homs and Idlib and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus. Its growing role has prompted concerns that the 17-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is becoming radicalized as the bloodshed soars. Jabhat al-Nusra’s growing visibility on the streets of Syrian cities highlights one of the reasons the United States and its allies have been  reluctant to arm Syrian rebels even as Obama administration officials repeatedly insist that Assad must go.

-JORDAN PROTESTS SYRIAN SHELLING…Jordan’s government spokesman has sternly criticized Syria for artillery shelling on its northern border that wounded a Jordanian girl and panicked other civilians. Sameeh Maaytah says the government summoned the Syrian ambassador in Amman to hand him a letter of protest late Sunday. Amman is awaiting a formal response from Syria.

-U.N.: END OF THE MISSION…Alex MARQUARDT reports that the UN monitoring mission expired last night at midnight, exactly four months since the team first deployed. It’s a symbolic end – as the mission had been largely dormant recently – but still highlights just how little influence the would-be peacemakers are having inside Syria.

IN LIBYA, ONE YEAR LATER

One year to the day since Libya’s capital fell to rebel fighters, some 32 Moammar Gadhafi loyalists have been arrested in connection with car bombings that killed two people in Tripoli yesterday.

IRAN + ISRAEL

-WAR COULD COST ISRAELI ECONOMY $42 BILLION…The Times of Israel reports that according to a study by Business Data Israel, a business information group, a war between Israel and Iran could cost the Israeli economy nearly $42 billion. According to the projections, lost work alone could cost the state nearly $10 billion.

-U.S. GENERAL ON THE IRAN THREAT…Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Martin Dempsey – en route to Kabul – said that Israel takes Iranian nuclear threat “more seriously than the U.S.” - and thus views the crisis differently. After conferring with his Israeli Defense Force counterpart Benny Gantz, Dempsey said their two countries are on different “clocks”, and therefore interpret reports and intelligence differently. Dempsey’s comments come as some Israeli officials are looking for a harder line from the U.S. toward Iran.

‪CHRISTIAN GIRL CHARGED WITH BLASPHEMY

From Muhammad LILA in Pakistan:  An 11-year old girl from a Christian family was charged over the weekend under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.  It’s believed the girl may have Down’s Syndrome and is mentally challenged.  She was found carrying pages of a Quran in a plastic bag.  Her parents have gone into protective custody.  Hundreds of her Christian neighbours have fled. If convicted, the girl could face an automatic death sentence.  It’s the latest what many Christians say is a targeted campaign of persecution against them.  It’s worth noting this incident didn’t happen in a small village or town.  It happened in Islamabad, the capital city.

HAND OVER DRONE FOOTAGE, OR FACE U.N. INQUIRY

The Independent reports that the U.N. has called on the U.S. to open itself to an independent investigation into its use of drone strikes - or the United Nations will be forced to step in. This comes as Pakistani officials said a US drone strike had killed at least four militants after targeting their vehicles in North Waziristan on Sunday.

CHINA DEFERS DEATH PENALTY FOR DISGRACED OFFICIAL’S WIFE

From Gloria RIVIERA in Beijing: A Chinese court handed Gu Kailai, the wife of a disgraced Communist Party leader, a suspended death sentence for killing a British business associate who she reportedly feared was plotting to harm her son. In the Chinese legal system, such a sentence is tantamount to life in prison. As Gloria writes, “In six short months, the woman once called the ‘Jackie Kennedy’ of China has gone from one half of one of the country’s most powerful couples to a mentally unstable (if you believe the prosecution) criminal convicted of pre-meditated murder.” Today, precisely on time and as expected, Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, received the suspended death sentence for the alleged murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Xinhua’s home page buried the verdict, featuring news from the U.S. Presidential race, Julian Assange, even the film “The Expendables 2″ ahead of the news about the trial.

‪FIGHTING OVER UNINHABITED ISLANDS

The Chinese call them the Diaoyu, the Japanese say they’re the Senkaku chain. Whatever name you choose, they’re the subject of one of the biggest territorial flare-ups in years between the Asian giants. When Tokyo’s nationalist governor suggested buying the uninhabited islands, Beijing immediately denounced him and even Japan’s government played down the plan, fearing an international firestorm. Now activists on both sides have put the islands front-and-center in one of the biggest crises between the two Asian giants in years, a collision of the persistent animosities over Japan’s imperialist past and the new fears of China’s rising economic and military clout. An unauthorized landing by Japanese activists on one of the tiny islands has sparked an outpouring of anger and anti-Japanese protests across China and fueled calls for aggressive government action that some fear could lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions.

ASIA’S SHOPPING PASSION COOLS

Koreans are buying fewer cars. Chinese consumers are cutting back on new clothes. There aren’t as many shoppers lining up outside Louis Vuitton boutiques in Hong Kong. And as the Wall Street Journal points out, the  Asian Development Bank anticipates that the annual rate of growth this year will fall to 6.6% from 7.2% in 2011.

‪GM IN CHINA

From the Wall Street Journal: The next generations of General Motors Co.’s Cadillacs will have softer corners, dashboards with more gadgetry and plusher rear seats. The U.S. automaker is tweaking the iconic American brand to make it more palatable to Chinese buyers and GM’s Chinese partner, even though Cadillac hasn’t sold strongly there. The redesign speaks to the growing influence of the partner, SAIC Motor Corp., on GM’s global strategy. Since pairing up with SAIC 15 years ago in a joint venture, GM has become the dominant foreign player in China, the world’s second-biggest economy and busiest auto market. SAIC now wants to move onto the world stage, and GM must decide how much it wants to help. Chinese law requires that foreign auto makers have local partners, and how GM manages its relationship with SAIC is crucial. The American auto maker needs SAIC to begin assembling Cadillacs in China so it can attack a luxury car market dominated by German car makers.

MYANMAR ABOLISHES MEDIA CENSORSHIP

Akiko FUJITA reports that Myanmar has abolished censorship of its media, the information ministry announced on Monday, in the latest in a series of sweeping reforms by the country’s nominally civilian government. “Censorship for all local publications is lifted from August 20, 2012,” according to a statement on the ministry’s website. More from the BBC.

LAW AND ORDER IN RUSSIA

A pair of items from Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow:

-KASPAROV ACCUSED…Gary Kasparov, former chess champion and opposition activist, has denied that he bit a policeman when he was detained outside Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court on August 17, during the “Pussy Riot” trial. One of the police officers who removed Kasparov from the venue complained that Kasparov had bitten him. Kasparov has denied the allegations and said he will file a complaint in the  court. “Unfortunately, having all the evidence in the world on my side will not help me in a Moscow courtroom,” Kasparov said. He was among some 97 demonstrators detained Friday.

-LAWSUIT AGAINST MADONNA…A group of right-wing activists in St. Petersburg has filed a $10 million  lawsuit against Madonna, claiming that during her August 9 concert in St.Petersburg, she promoted homosexuality and offended Orthodox believers by stepping on a cross. 

PRINCE PHILIP RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL

The BBC reports this morning that Prince Philip has been released from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after spending five nights in the hospital with a bladder infection. 

‪SOUTH AFRICAN MINERS MUST WORK, OR LOSE JOBS

From Bazi KANANI: The world’s no. 3 platinum producer Lonmin told workers to return to work or face dismissal today, saying police deemed it safe to return to duty after 44 people were killed in a week of violence at one of its South African mines. Police shot 34 dead on Thursday. SABC also reports that the protesters are expected in court today.

NYAD LATEST: JUST KEEP SWIMMING…

American endurance athlete Diana Nyad is well on her way – having launched another bid on Saturday to set an open-water record by swimming 103 miles between Havana and the Florida Keys without a protective shark cage. She expects to complete her journey late Tuesday or early Wednesday if all goes as planned. At this hour, she’s making good progress.

‪‪IGUANA: IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER

Iguanas have proliferated in Puerto Rico, chewing up plants and crops and burrowing under roads and dikes. And now, the  Wall Street Journal reports that authorities have a new solution: eat them—or at least export them to other countries that find the reptiles appetizing.

‪RUSSIANS ‪IN SPACE

Two Russian cosmonauts will take a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk stroll outside the international space station this morning at 10:40am ET.

OLYMPICS TOO BORING FOR YOU?

Jean FIEVET finds this gem:  The World Alternative Games 2012 in Wales are on. The sprinters have to wear high heels. The long-distance runner have to run backwards. The field hockey is underwater. In total there are 35 events. The opening ceremony was on Friday and the games last for a fortnight.

AND ONE RELATED ITEM…

How about the cell-phone throw? Competitors have been gathering in the eastern Finnish town of Savonlinna for the annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships.

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