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New Arab Coalition Coming Together To Intervene In Libya

By Tom Hussain,McClatchy Foreign Staff (TNS)

ISLAMABAD — Three years after the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi, the military chiefs of seven Arab countries are expected to meet in Cairo next week to discuss whether they should intervene in Libya, which is split between two governments, controlled by rival militias, and home now to a blossoming Islamic State affiliate.

Analysts of Middle Eastern affairs said the meeting is likely to increase outside support for Khalifa Hifter, a former Gadhafi general who defected to the United States in the late 1980s and returned to Libya during the 2011 uprising that ended in Gadhafi’s death.

Hifter, who had expected to lead the creation of a new Libyan army after Gadhafi’s fall but was sidelined by the country’s political rivalries, launched an assault last year on what he said were radical Islamist groups that had taken control of much of Libya in the past three years. Libya is now divided between two main factions, one known as Operation Dignity, which is allied with Hifter and based in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, and another called Libya Dawn, which is based in Tripoli and is backed by several militia factions.

The civil war anarchy has left room for the Islamic State to organize. It now controls Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte. In January, it posted a video of what it said were 21 Egyptian workers being beheaded on a Libyan beach.

Ayham Kamel, director for the Middle East and North Africa for the Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk advisory firm, said he doubted that the seven countries meeting May 18 in Cairo will agree to send troops to Libya. But increased military support for Hifter’s forces could provide an important edge in what has been the long-running stalemate between the Tobruk government, which the United States and the European Union recognize, and the Tripoli one, which has won a ruling in favor of its legitimacy from the country’s supreme court.

Kamel said supporting Hifter would be the easiest route for the Arab countries, rather than becoming involved in U.N.-sponsored peace talks that have made little progress in months of trying.

Next week’s gathering in Cairo was first reported by the U.S. publication Defense News, which said that participants include seven of the 10 Arab countries that have intervened in Yemen.

But the Libya meeting is a separate initiative pushed by Egypt, which borders Libya on the east. Saudi Arabia is the prime mover behind the Yemen campaign.
The countries sending representatives to Egypt include Jordan and Sudan and four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. All seven nations are members of the Saudi-led coalition currently opposing Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Notably, the gathering in Egypt excludes another Gulf Cooperation Council member, Qatar, which supports the Libyan Dawn administration in Tripoli.

Theodore Karasik, a Saudi-focused analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, called the Cairo meeting part of a “grand experiment in Arab-led coalitions” that “will illustrate how different theaters of the Middle East and North Africa are viewed in functional strategic and tactical direction.”

He noted that the one item of interest to analysts as the Yemen and Libya situations play out is “who is politically willing or excluded from operations.”

The May 18 meeting would follow up discussions last month by Arab League military chiefs in Cairo, which were attended by the Tobruk government’s armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Abdul Razzaq Nadhuri.

Since then, the UAE has delivered five Russian-built Mi-35 Hind helicopters. Additional Russian anti-tank and armor-piercing weapons and munitions will soon be delivered, Defense News reported.

Parallel to the military initiative, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would host a forum in late May of Libyan tribal leaders supportive of the Tobruk-based government to “unify the Libyan people” and “to give a necessary boost toward political dialogue.”

(Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.) (c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AFP Photo/Abdullah Doma

Taliban Release Video Of U.S. Soldier’s Handover

Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban released Wednesday footage of the dramatic moments when a cadre of gun-toting militants handed over army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. forces after five years in captivity.

“Don’t return to Afghanistan again. Next time, nobody will release you,” one of the insurgents is heard telling Bergdahl in the 17-minute video.

It shows a U.S. military helicopter landing in a valley, kicking up small clouds of dust as a jittery-looking Bergdahl waits just a few feet away flanked by militants clutching a white flag.

After a brief exchange of handshakes between insurgents and U.S. soldiers, Bergdahl — wearing a white salwar kameez and a scarf over his shoulders — moves unsteadily towards the helicopter. The entire exchange lasts about one minute.

Bergdahl — the only U.S. soldier held by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan — was freed on Saturday in exchange for five senior Taliban militants detained at Guantanamo Bay in a deal brokered by Qatar.

His release has evoked sharp criticism from some U.S. politicians, who fear they could return to the battlefield and pose a threat to Americans abroad.

It has also provoked revulsion among Afghans in those parts of the country traditionally opposed to the Islamists.

The Taliban video, entitled “Ceremony of the American soldier exchange”, at one point also displays the words “Don’t Come Back to Afghanistan” superimposed over footage of Bergdahl.

A male voiceover in the video — laced with emotive religious music and chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) — said the exchange occurred in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.

“The Americans contacted us and asked us where was a good place to meet. We contacted tribal elders to come and join us, because we do not trust them (Americans),” the voiceover said.

“I congratulate all the mujahideen for this victory.”

In response to the video, U.S. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: “We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but we are reviewing it.”

“Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs,” Kirby said in a statement.

Bergdahl is now being treated at a U.S. military facility in Germany.

The authenticity of the video emailed to media organizations by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid could not be independently verified by AFP.

But the video is characteristic of a well-oiled Taliban propaganda machine, observers say.

Once seen as uneducated thugs, the Taliban — ousted from power in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 — have evolved into a media-savvy force adept at exploiting the power of mass communication.

“In addition to showing the scene of handover, the video presents a ‘victory’ narrative of the Taliban,” said Borhan Osman, an analyst at the Kabul-based think-tank Afghan Analysts Network (AAN).

“It frequently shows the scenes of the five leaders exchanged for Bowe while arriving in Qatar. The scenes of the men receiving a hero’s welcome… would stir up excitement and boost the morale of the fighters and supporters of the movement.”

U.S. defense officials have previously said dozens of U.S. special forces troops backed up by helicopters were sent for the handover.

“Fortunately, no shots were fired,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday. “There was no violence. It went as well as we not only had expected and planned, but I think as well as it could have.”

The U.S. military’s top officer General Martin Dempsey said Tuesday that Bergdahl may be disciplined if the army holds him guilty of misconduct, after claims from members of his unit that he had been captured in 2009 after abandoning his post.

Photo: Al-Emara via AFP

Qatar Court Jails U.S. Couple 3 Years For Daughter Death

Doha (AFP) — A Qatari court on Thursday sentenced a U.S. couple from Los Angeles to three years in prison for causing the death of their adopted eight-year-old daughter.

Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January 2013 after their daughter Gloria from an orphanage in Ghana died. They were accused of causing her death in order to sell her organs.

The court also ordered the couple to pay a fine of 15,000 riyals (4,100 dollars) each and to be deported after serving their sentence.

But upon reading the verdict, the judge did not specify the exact charges for which the Huangs were convicted.

The couple, who say the child had an eating disorder, called on U.S. President Barack Obama, who visits neighboring Saudi Arabia on Friday, to intervene in the case.

They have two weeks to appeal.

“We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system,” Matthew Huang said in a statement read to reporters outside the court.

“This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face,” he said.

“We are calling on United States President Obama to call the head of state in Qatar and explain to him why American families adopt high-needs children,” said Huang.

He said the ruling must be “overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home.”

Defense lawyer Eric Volz said the case was left in confusion and the charge unclear.

“The judge literally read a couple of sentences. There wasn’t much explanation given. There’s still a lot of confusion as to how this is happening,” he said, adding that “the judge did not specify for what crime he was sentencing them.”

“We are asking how can someone be sentenced without being convicted?”

“As far as we know they’ve not been ordered to go back to prison but we also were not told that they are not going back to prison,” said Volz, adding that the couple were very scared and awaiting clarification from the court.

The lawyer said the couple “came to the court thinking that they would be declared innocent. Matt and Grace even had plane tickets already paid for.”

“They thought they were gonna go home and be with their sons.”

The couple of Asian origin were released in November pending trial, but the court denied their request to leave the country to join their other two adopted children in the United States.

The public prosecutor pushed for the death penalty for the Huangs.

Both adoption and multiracial families are rare in Qatar, a conservative Gulf Arab emirate.

The family’s supporters maintain Qatari authorities misunderstood the Huangs’ situation and found it suspicious.

The “Free Grace and Matt” website said police accuse the couple of having adopted the children “in order to harvest their organs, or perhaps to perform medical experiments on them.”

Gloria, their daughter, had “an eating disorder, a legacy of her impoverished childhood in Ghana, in which she would sometimes fast, binge-eat or steal food,” the website says.

The Huangs moved to Qatar in 2012 for Matthew, an engineer, to work on infrastructure projects linked to the 2022 football World Cup.

Their supporters describe them as a loving family and say they have collected supporting testimony from people who knew them in Qatar, which authorities declined to accept.

afp.com / Karim Jaafar