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Secretary of the Army John McHugh said records show Lopez, who was a military truck driver in Iraq, suffered no wounds during his deployment there. McHugh testified Thursday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, during which he said Lopez was undergoing a variety of treatment for psychiatric issues, ranging from depression to anxiety to sleep disturbances. He said Lopez was taking “a number of drugs,” including Ambien, for these conditions, and that he had seen a psychiatrist just last month. McHugh said there were no indications during that examination that Lopez showed any “sign of likely violence.”

Profiles In Efficiency

Telegraph – A British sniper in Afghanistan killed six insurgents with a single bullet after hitting the trigger switch of a suicide bomber whose device then exploded, The Telegraph has learnt.

The 20-year-old marksman, a Lance Corporal in the Coldstream Guards, hit his target from 930 yards (850 metres) away, killing the suicide bomber and five others around him caught in the blast.

The incident in Kakaran in southern Afghanistan happened in December but has only now been disclosed as Britain moves towards the withdrawal of all combat soldiers by the end of the year.

Lt Col Richard Slack, commanding officer of 9/12 Royal Lancers, said the unnamed sharpshooter prevented a major attack by the Taliban, as a second suicide vest packed with 20kg (44lbs) of explosives was found nearby.
The same sniper, with his first shot on the tour of duty, killed a Taliban machine-gunner from 1,465 yards (1,340m).

Several hundred British and Afghan soldiers were carrying out an operation in December when they were engaged in a gun battle with 15 to 20 insurgents.

“The guy was wearing a vest. He was identified by the sniper moving down a tree line and coming up over a ditch,” said Lt Col Slack. “He had a shawl on. It rose up and the sniper saw he had a machine gun.

“They were in contact and he was moving to a firing position. The sniper engaged him and the guy exploded. There was a pause on the radio and the sniper said, ‘I think I’ve just shot a suicide bomber’. The rest of them were killed in the blast.”

It is understood the L/Cpl was using an L115A3 gun, the Army’s most powerful sniper weapon.

Islam vs Social Media

WAPO – After Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter in the country late Thursday night, many local users found ways to circumvent the restrictions. But getting around the ban is becoming more difficult, as the government appears to have changed up its technical strategy for blocking the social media platform.

When the block was first implemented, most Internet Service Providers appeared to be using DNS redirects to show users inside Turkey a page citing various court orders Twitter had not responded to as justification for the ban. DNS, or the Domain Name System, is sort of like a phone book for the Internet — it translates a URL into the numbers of IP addresses so browsers can access the Internet. Local ISPs were essentially changing the record in their digital phone books and redirecting many people in Turkey who were attempting to access Twitter to a different destination.

But this redirection could be circumvented by changing the record manually and relying on a different DNS server. In Turkey, many users turned to public DNS servers, including some operated by Google — in fact, the records for those DNS servers ended up in protest graffiti widely shared online. But earlier Saturday, the local Hurriyet Daily News reported that most, if not all, DNS options were blocked — including Google’s.

And now, researchers are reporting that Twitter is blocked at the IP level within Turkey. Collin Anderson, an independent researcher who has been following the situation in Turkey, said he saw the ban roll out over the course of two hours Saturday. Beginning around 1 p.m. UTC, his measurements of Turkish ISPs began to report not being able to reach IP addresses associated with Twitter’s Web server. “By 15:00 UTC, no ISP could reach Twitter by IP address any longer.”

Earlier in the day he saw a similar pattern with Turkish ISPs blocking DNS services. He believes the fragmented nature of the rollouts implies that the ISPs received a court of administrative order they complied with at their own rates. The DNS blocking started between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. UTC, but was removed across all ISPs between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. UTC, according to his research.

Continue reading ‘Islam vs Social Media’ »

SEALS Board Rogue Tanker

Fox News – Navy SEALs have boarded and taken command of an oil tanker that was seized by three armed men at a Libyan port earlier this month, thwarting an attempt by a splinter militia group from selling nationalized Libyan oil on the black market.

A Pentagon spokesman said that the operation was carried out Sunday night on orders from President Obama in international waters southeast of Cyprus, at the request of the Libyan and Cypriot governments. There were no casualties. The USS Roosevelt provided an embarkation point for the SEALs as well as helicopter support and served as a command and control and support platform.

“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained from the Libyan port of As-Sidra,” Rear Adm. John Kirby’s statement read in part.

The tanker had previously eluded a Libyan naval blockade around the port of Sidra, which is being held by militias who are demanding autonomy for eastern Libya. The maneuver led to the dismissal of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by that country’s parliament last week.

This past August, the rebels had seized three export terminals in the port that previously accounted for 700,000 barrels of oil per day. The struggle for control of Libya’s oil wealth has been one of the main sources of strife in the country since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The ship was docked at the port under the flag of North Korea, but officials in Pyongyang told the Associated Press they had canceled the vessel’s registration after being notified that the tanker had been loaded for export in defiance of the authorities in Tripoli.

The Pentagon said that a team of sailors will take the tanker to a Libyan port. The Cypriot ministry of foreign affairs told Reuters that the vessel was heading west in the Mediterranean Sea with a U.S. military escort.

Friends In Low Places

ABC NEWS – Police in northern Mexico detained about 40 people Sunday who were apparently planning to demonstrate in support of captured drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The move came after a similar march demanding Guzman’s release last week drew about 1,000 enthusiastic supporters into the streets of Culiacan, the capital of northern Sinaloa state, which is the home base of the Sinaloa Cartel purportedly led by Guzman.

Daniel Gaxiola, spokesman for the Sinaloa state public safety department, said those detained were among a crowd of about 150 people who gathered at a shrine to Jesus Malverde, a folk saint viewed as the patron or protector of people involved in the drug trade. Some shouted “Long live Chapo!” and refused police orders to disperse, he said.

About 20 police patrol vehicles were sent to the scene, and Gaxiola said the 40 people detained were held for disturbing the peace.

Messages on social networking sites had urged people to gather at the shrine for a march in favor of Guzman, who is alleged to be the hemisphere’s most powerful drug lord.

In last Wednesday’s march, some participants said they liked Guzman because he provided jobs, money and protection. At that march, norteno musicians played trumpets while high school students in uniforms held up signs reading “We want Chapo free” and “We love Chapo.”

After that march, authorities said they would not seek to limit freedom of expression, but would not tolerate marches that disturbed the peace or provided support or justification for criminals.

Guzman was arrested Feb. 22 in the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan. Mexican federal judges have said he will have to stand trial on separate drug-trafficking and organized-crime charges in Mexico. The Attorney General’s Office said he also faces organized-crime charges in six other cases in four Mexican states and in Mexico City.

Guzman, who escaped from a western Mexico prison in 2001, is to remain in Mexico’s highest-security prison. The government has said he will not soon be extradited to the U.S., where Guzman has been indicted in California, New York and other states.

Checkers Anyone?

New York Times – President Obama has warned Russia that “there will be costs” for a military intervention in Ukraine. But the United States has few palatable options for imposing such costs, and recent history has shown that when it considers its interests at stake, Russia has been willing to absorb any such fallout.

Even before President Vladimir V. Putin on Saturday made his first public gesture toward ordering Russian troops into the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Mr. Obama and his team were already discussing how to respond. They talked about canceling the president’s trip to a summit meeting in Russia in June, shelving a possible trade agreement, kicking Moscow out of the Group of 8 or moving American warships to the region.

That is the same menu of actions that was offered to President George W. Bush in 2008 when Russia went to war with Georgia, another balky former Soviet republic. Yet the costs imposed at that time proved only marginally effective and short-lived. Russia stopped its advance but nearly six years later has never fully lived up to the terms of the cease-fire it signed. And whatever penalty it paid at the time evidently has not deterred it from again muscling a neighbor.

“The question is: are those costs big enough to cause Russia not to take advantage of the situation in the Crimea? That’s the $64,000 question,” said Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, a retired Army officer who served as defense attaché in the American Embassy in Moscow and now, as a Harvard scholar, leads a group of former Russian and American officials in back-channel talks.

Mr. Putin has already demonstrated that the most obvious cost, to its international reputation, would not stop him from what Ukraine is calling an invasion of Crimea and what United States officials, at least privately, are calling a military intervention. Having just hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he must have realized he was all but throwing away seven years and $50 billion of effort to polish Russia’s image.

Before issuing any orders, Mr. Putin certainly expected condemnations and diplomatic protests from the United States and Europe, and he calculated that they did not outweigh what he sees as a threat to Russia’s historical interest in Ukraine, which was ruled by Moscow until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and where it still has a major military base.

Finding more compelling levers to influence his decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war.

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too powerful even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies.

Mr. Obama is under bipartisan pressure to take action to stop Mr. Putin. A dozen senators from both parties wrote him a letter Friday arguing that “the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal,” including targeted sanctions and asset seizure.

“Now is the time for U.S. leadership,” said one of those senators, Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “The U.S. and the European Union should take meaningful measures to demonstrate to the Russian government that military action against Ukraine is intolerable and will carry significant consequences for Moscow.”

None of the senators, however, outlined ideas not already on the table in the Situation Room. And besides, Mr. Obama needs Russian support in the midst of critical talks over Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program.

“What can we do?” asked Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the government’s top intelligence officer on Russia during the Georgia war when Mr. Putin deflected Western agitation. “We’ll talk about sanctions. We’ll talk about red lines. We’ll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he’ll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war.”

Continue reading ‘Checkers Anyone?’ »

My Kingdom For A Match

ABC News - The Christian militiamen know hundreds of Muslims are hiding here on the grounds of the Catholic church and now they’re giving them a final ultimatum: Leave Central African Republic within a week or face death at the hands of machete-wielding youths.

On Monday, some of the 30 Cameroonian peacekeepers fired into the air to disperse angry militia fighters congregated outside the concrete walls of the church compound. The gunfire sent traumatized children running for cover and set off a chorus of wails throughout the courtyard.

The peacekeepers are all that stand between nearly 800 Muslims and the armed gangs who want them dead. Already the fighters known as the anti-Balaka have brought 40 liters (10 gallons) of gasoline and threatened to burn the church to the ground.

Even the Rev. Justin Nary, who takes in more Muslims by the day, knows he too is a marked man in the eyes of anti-Balaka.

“Walking through town I’ve had guns pointed in my face four times,” he says. “They call my phone and say they’ll kill me once the peacekeepers are gone.”

Some of those seeking refuge fled from the village of Guen, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, after at least 70 Muslims were killed there, according to the Rev. Rigobert Dolongo who said he helped bury the bodies.

Muslims and Christians lived together in Carnot in relative peace for generations until a Muslim rebellion from the country’s far north overthrew the government and unleashed total chaos. The rebels known as Seleka were blamed for scores of massacres on predominantly Christian villages across the country.

When they were forced from power in January, it unleashed a wave of violent vengeance against Muslims throughout the anarchic nation. In the capital, angry mobs killed and mutilated anyone suspected of having supported the Seleka. The Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka stormed Carnot in early February when the Seleka fled.

The situation in the capital, Bangui, appears to have stabilized somewhat, but the sectarian violence continues in the countryside.

Continue reading ‘My Kingdom For A Match’ »

Slip Slidin’ Away

National Review – America is unraveling at a stunning speed and to a staggering degree. This decline is breathtaking, and the prognosis is dim.

For starters, Obama now rules by decree. Reportedly for the 27th time, he has changed the rules of Obamacare singlehandedly, with neither congressional approval nor even ceremonial resolutions to limit his actions. Obama needs no such frivolities.

Thankingme250“That’s the good thing about being president,” Obama joked on February 10. “I can do whatever I want.” In an especially bitter irony, Obama uttered these despicable words while guiding French president François Hollande through Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson — a key architect of America’s foundation of limited government.

That very day, Obama decreed that the Obamacare mandate for employers with 50 to 99 workers would be postponed until 2016 (beyond an earlier extension to 2015), well past the November 2014 midterm elections. This eases the pressure on Democrats, whose campaigns would suffer if voters saw their company health plans canceled due to Obamacare’s unnecessary, expensive, mandatory benefits — e.g. maternity coverage for men.

So, by fiat, Obama has postponed the employer mandate. When Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) effectively tried to do this through legislation last fall, Democrats virtually lassoed and branded him.

Also by decree last week, Obama decided unilaterally to soften political-asylum rules. Refugees and other immigrants who provide terrorists “limited material support” now can come to America. So what if someone merely clothed and fed Mohamed Atta or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? After all, garments and meals don’t blow up. Welcome to America, Mustafa!

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is working hard to revoke the asylum of and deport the Romeikes. This evangelical-Christian family was granted refuge in America to escape prosecution for homeschooling their children, which German law forbids.

So, Obama believes, those who are only somewhat helpful to deadly, anti-U.S. terrorists may become Americans, while religiously oppressed homeschoolers who face prison should get the hell out.

The transparent electoral motive that fuels so many of Obama’s executive orders seems unprecedented. The tone is also brand new. Obama’s predecessors have signed executive orders and, more or less, left it at that. But Obama pounds his chest as he does so. As he told Congress at last month’s State of the Union address: “America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

While appalled Republicans sat on their hands, Democrats stood up and shouted like equatorial, rubber-stamp parliamentarians: “Hooray! We are irrelevant!”

Chilling.

Meanwhile, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Marc Thiessen wrote in the February 10 Washington Post, new Congressional Budget Office figures show that Obamacare will reduce U.S. incomes by $70 billion annually between 2017 and 2024. The CBO also estimated that by 2021, Obamacare’s disincentives to hire and incentives not to work would slash labor hours by the equivalent of 2.3 million jobs.

Rather than dispute these figures, key Democrats embraced them.

“We want people to have the freedom to be a writer, to be a photographer, to make music, to paint,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She added that “people would no longer be job-locked by their [health] policies, but have the freedom to follow their passion.”

So, rather than expand economic growth and jobs, Democrats applaud as Americans stop working — to do watercolors, draft poetry, and take naps — while exhausted taxpayers foot the bill.

Continue reading ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ »