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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Republic: WikiLeaks Hurts US Foreign Policy

by Heather Hurlburt
Heather Hurlburt is the executive director of the National Security Network.
WikiLeaks, an organization dedicated to the release of secret documents, leaked thousands of private diplomatic cables earlier this week.

Will the latest Wikileaks dump really matter that much?

It's true, as both Laura Rozen and Kevin Drum have observed, that many of the secret messages don't seem to reveal big secrets. As Rozen wrote yesterday:

"One is struck overall that the classified diplomatic discussions on Iran revealed in the cables are not all that different from what one would expect from following the public comments senior U.S. officials have made on the Iran issue the last several months."

But, with all due respect to my friends in the blogosphere, diplomacy was never about stating the obvious. Here are three ways the leaks could have a lasting impact on American foreign policy. None of them will be good news for those of us who value transparency and who believe diplomacy, not force, should enjoy primacy in the U.S. approach to the rest of the world.

Making the Hardest Diplomatic Work Harder

I spent almost a decade working at the State Department and overseas. After reading through these files, I cannot stop imagining just how hard it will be for Foreign Service Officers to do their jobs. One former Officer, Alex Grossman, summed it up for me nicely: "fear of publication will only prevent people from voicing frank and honest opinions, assessments and recommendations."

And it's not just that U.S. officials will have to be careful about what they say or write. It's that they'll be dealing with foreign officials living with the same fear of exposure. In the Middle East, as Marc Lynch notes, Arab leaders may already be dealing with blowback in their own countries, for offering the U.S. frank assessments of one other. Russian leaders are likely to get skittish about continuing the depth of intelligence-sharing they've moved to under the current Administration, as Sam Charap of the Center for American Progress noted:

"The ramifications for U.S.-Russia relations are difficult to overstate. So much rests on trust between individuals in a relationship like that where baggage of mutual suspicion extends decades back. When they see the details of their assessment of Iran's ballistic missile program posted online, which they provided to U.S. interlocutors in confidence, they will think more than twice before ever telling us something sensitive again."

Not being a mind-reader nor possessed of the right stripe of nationalist paranoia, I have no idea how the leadership factions in North Korea will make sense of the revelations regarding their missile programs and sales, much less U.S.-South Korean discussion of a post-North Korean order. But this can't make dealing with them easier.

Slowing the Movement Toward DeClassification and Openness in National Security

In the last few years, there has been some progress toward classifying fewer documents and using the more rarefied classifications less frequently. This series of leaks will almost surely reverse that progress. A top-secret classification would have kept any of these documents off the shared network from which they were allegedly downloaded by a very junior soldier.

You can bet that the intelligence community will make that point—not only to justify stronger classification of new documents but also to slow the declassification of old ones. Civilian administrations at least since Clinton's have been trying to speed up those efforts. Now they will go even more slowly, making it harder to learn the whole story of how our government analyzed an issue, treated an individual, or reacted to a crisis.

And make no mistake: You can't get the comprehensive history of a diplomatic episode from Wikileaks any more than someone could learn the comprehensive truth about you by downloading the top 20 e-mails from your inbox right now.

Historians and other champions of truth should not be pleased.

Undermining Progressive Policies and Frameworks

In my day job this week, I'm thinking tactically about the leaks' effects on the issues of immediate concern to me: ratifying the START Treaty and promoting effective diplomacy to deal with Iran, while inching our way toward lasting peace in the Middle East and away from an endless military quagmire in Afghanistan.

But underlying all those discrete policy positions is a common set of assumptions and values: that we live in a complex world where posturing, rigid ideology, and indiscriminate use of force will not get us, as a society or a global commons, to where we need to go; that quiet talk is much more effective than loud threats; that, in the long run, America's national interests will be best served if we see and act on them as inextricably linked with the interests of others.

I've called them progressive, because they are. They're also, with a bit less emphasis on the global good, realist. Or you might simply say they are sane and reasonable. But if we can't conduct quiet diplomacy and have it stay quiet, it's a lot harder to make this approach work. Could Sadat and Begin have gotten to Camp David without months of quiet preparation? Could Nixon have gone to China?

And back here within the U.S., you can count upon the opponents of progressive policies to use the Wikileaks dumps to advance their agenda. They'll take items out of context and use them to justify ideas like bombing Iran, rejecting the START treaty, and god-knows-what to North Korea. The Wikileakers claim to promote the politics of peace and moderation. But this latest dump could very easily have the opposite effect, by giving the absolutists a chance to spread their stereotypes and illusions of a black and white world.

Source: NPR

Somalia: Security Council maintains exemption of aid delivery from embargo monitoring

The Security Council today maintained the exemption of activities related to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia from restrictions imposed under the Council’s existing arms embargo relating to the Horn of Africa.

“The Security Council noted that the measures in paragraph 5 of resolution 1916 remain necessary to address the situation in Somalia, which continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,” the Council said in a press statement.

In its resolution 1916, adopted on 19 March, the Council expanded the United Nations panel of experts monitoring compliance with sanctions related to the conflict in Somalia for another year, and expanded its mandate to include Eritrea’s activities in Somalia.

The panel, which has monitored compliance with embargoes on the delivery of weapons and military equipment, is now also tasked with probing activities – financial, maritime or any other field – which generate revenue used to violate the embargoes.

It is also now required to investigate “any means of transport, routes, seaports, airports and other facilities” used to break the embargoes, and to also identify ways in which the capacities of the region’s States can be strengthened to better implement the arms embargo.

The resolution eased some restrictions to enable the delivery of supplies and technical assistance by international, regional and sub-regional organisations, and to ensure the flow of urgently needed humanitarian assistance. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia was requested to report every 120 days on the implementation of this provision.

Somalia, which has been torn apart by decades of conflict and factional strife, faces a dire humanitarian crisis in which 3.2 million people, more than 40 per cent of the population, is in need of aid.

Source: UN News Center

Returned exiles offer Somalia its last chance

bureaucrat from Buffalo, a primary school teacher from Birmingham and the Oxford-educated brother of broadcaster Rageh Omaar. These are, respectively, Somalia's new Prime Minister, Women's Minister and Foreign Minister. And collectively they represent their country's last chance for a generation of piecing together a central government in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.

Sounding like a politician anywhere else in the world, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed talks of his first 100 days. Then he checks himself and changes that to 80 days, because "we don't have time to waste". Speaking in the favoured political clich├ęs of his adopted country, he says the new "team" is made up of "professionals and scholars" with the "energy to bring change".

Eight months from now, the mandate for the UN-backed transitional federal government (TFG) will run out. The international community warns that it is ready to give up on the administration unless clear progress is demonstrated. Diplomats admit that it will take "a miracle in Mogadishu" to turn things around and nobody is sure what might come next.

A walk through the wreck of the old parliament in central Mogadishu offers a warning to anyone who thinks they can make politics work in this divided country. Goats wander through the rubble of its hallways, while African Union soldiers are camped under canvas among its smashed walls. On the second floor is the amphitheatre where MPs once sat. The roof has been blown away and a mural featuring a woman breaking chains above a crowd of Somali faces has been blasted to a faint outline by the sun.

Parliament now meets in the basement function room where the plastic chairs – in blue and white, to reflect the Somali flag – offer the only hint of a national purpose. To date, the internationally funded peace process has delivered a succession of expensive governments in exile, a boon for the five-star hotels of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and nothing for most Somalis.

Despite the reassuringly familiar accents of many of the new ministers, politics in Mogadishu is nothing like anywhere else. Government officials live as virtual prisoners in the compound of Villa Somalia – the city's presidential palace – travelling to meetings in the back of armoured personnel carriers mounted with machine guns. The vehicles reverse to the door of meeting rooms to shield their VIP cargo. Five Somali cabinet ministers have been killed in attacks by Islamic extremists, al-Shabaab, in the past year.

This is the world Dr Maryan Qasim has just stepped into. For the past eight years she has been working at a primary school in Birmingham. After less than a week back in her home city after an absence of more than 20 years, the softly spoken former doctor is struggling to adjust.

She speaks of the problems facing Somali immigrants in the UK before seeming to remember where she is now. "Everything has changed," she says. "After 20 years of civil war I could imagine what I would find but there is no word to define the suffering here."

Only a fortnight ago the telephone rang in her "nice house" in Britain's second city. It was the new Prime Minister's office asking her to come home. "My family begged me not to go," she admits.

She says she is still getting used to going to sleep to the sound of heavy weapons. The university where she earned her degree in the 1970s is now in ruins, stuffed with sandbags and razor wire for its new life as headquarters for the Burundi contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia force, Amisom. Like anyone else visiting the capital, the new Women's Minister sees no evidence of international support. "Where is Unicef?" she asks. In an effort to describe things in terms that would make sense in Britain, she says that Somalia needs its own "Sure Start" programme for families.

With the impeccable manners of a bygone era, the Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar concedes that the international community has supported past governments to little effect and that Somali politics has been sunk in a mire of corruption and infighting. But he insists "clean government" has arrived. He believes that the TFG can defeat al-Shabaab in the capital within four months and this will "provide proof positive of change".

The Prime Minister has been in the country less than a month and speaks as though he were a local party hack for the US Democrats. A little over a month ago he was still a commissioner for ethnic minority rights in Buffalo, New York. He says: "We need good government and reconciliation. Without them we are wasting time." Overflowing with his can-do attitude, he says: "We have energy and fresh ideas. A lot of people are buying that."

But not everyone. The decades-long bid to restore some measure of central government to Somalia has disappointed everyone involved. "We've heard it all before," says a senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "What these people have to demonstrate is that they can change lives of the people of Mogadishu. Posturing is not enough."

In the coming weeks, the UN Security Council will sanction the expansion of the Amisom force from 8,000 to 12,000 troops at international expense. A senior diplomat from one of the main donor countries says: "There will be no extension of the TFG's mandate if they fail. It's definitely over."

For its part, the government of expats is hoping its willingness to come to this war-torn city will prompt international agencies in cosy Somalia postings in Nairobi to follow suit. The UN said in July it would be returning to Mogadishu "within six weeks". But a suicide bombing followed and that timeline was quietly abandoned. The man who oversees the closest that Mogadishu has to a "green zone" is Ugandan Major-General Nathan Mugisha, head of the Amisom mission. He says the time has come for aid agencies to leave the comfort of Kenya and risk return. "There's no reason why the biggest shots shouldn't come here," he says. He points to the weekend visit by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the first of its kind in two decades, as evidence of improved security. "The military has done its part," General Mugisha says. "We need them to come and fill the gaps."

The "plan B" for Somalia being discussed if the new cabinet of "outsiders" doesn't work boils down to recognising that parts of the country have continued to work despite anarchy in central and southern areas. The northern breakaway, Somaliland, is not internationally recognised but it carried out arguably the most successful African election this year. The semi-autonomous province of Puntland has fared better in the war against al-Shabaab.

A Western diplomat working with the new government says that some governments were already switching focus: "The new strategy will mean directing support to the parts of the country which work and containing the parts that don't." Optimism, like everything else in Somalia, is in short supply.

Source: The Independent

New alarm among Somalis in Minnesota

A few hours before delivering a speech Saturday about the dangers of ignorance, Sharif Mohamed of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis received disturbing news.

"Did you hear?" a friend asked the Muslim prayer leader by phone.

Mohamed, of Minneapolis, quickly learned of the foiled car bomb attack planned for a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony Friday in Portland, Ore., and of the 19-year-old Somali-American accused in the plot.

In the Twin Cities, home to the nation's largest Somali community, where concerns about radicalized youths already were high, the news from Oregon has heightened calls for a swift community response.

Minnesota Somali leaders had already been working to protect young men in their community from the lure of radicalism and gangs.

"It's a very dangerous situation," Mohamed said of the threat posed by religious extremism. "The next step is [figuring out] how can the Somali community address this issue?"

Added Abdisalam Adam, secretary of the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America: "There seems to be a feeling of, with the youth, something is missing."

Concerns raised by the attempted terrorist attack in Portland, which allegedly was planned by teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud, have only increased with reports of an arson attack a couple of days later against an Oregon mosque where he reportedly once worshiped.

A town hall meeting to discuss the Oregon incident, organized by BBC Somali, is planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Safari Restaurant, 3010 4th Av. S., Minneapolis. That same evening, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Dar al-Hijrah, at 504 Cedar Av. S., will host an open house and discussion on peaceful co-existence.

Cases not connected

Minnesota has recently been at the center of one of the largest counterterrorism probes since the 9/11 attacks.

The focus stems from the recruitment of at least 20 young men, nearly all of Somali descent, by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

E.K. Wilson, special agent for the FBI in Minneapolis, said again Monday that the Portland case is not connected to what has happened in Minnesota.

"As far as any ties to our investigation, no, there are no ties," he said.

Reports that Mohamud, whose parents live in Portland, may have a stepmother in Minnesota couldn't be confirmed by the FBI, Wilson said.

"Chances are, for a Somali outside of Somalia, there is a good chance he's going to have a relative here somewhere," Wilson said.

"So I guess we just kind of assume that. But does that mean there is a tie to the case in Minneapolis? No."

Plans for an open house at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque were already in the works before the Portland incident, Sharif Mohamed said.

A new urgency

But the terrorist plot has injected a sense of urgency into their plans.

"It reinforces why people need to get along," Adam said. "The message to the youth is that this is their home. It makes it more relevant."

The speech that Sharif Mohamed was delivering about ignorance was part of a series of lectures delivered to a couple of hundred people in the local Somali community over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Mohamed is president of a new group called the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America.

Formed about eight months ago to combat extremism, it includes members from nine different Somali organizations nationwide.

"A lot of people, when they do this type of activity, it's because they are ignorant about the religion," he said.

"What you hear on YouTube is not the right Islam. We plan to do more, too."

Source: StarTribune

Somali militants lose more territory

THE al-Shabaab Islamist insurgents fighting the Somali government are slowly losing control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as the Transitional Government Forces, backed by the African Union forces (AMISOM), continue capturing more areas of the battered capital.

“In July, we controlled about eight positions in Mogadishu. But by the end of September, we had 16 positions,” said the Ugandan contingent commander, Col. Michael Ondoga.

A young soldier, who was watching the al-Shabaab positions just a few metres away, said: “They regularly try to push us back, but every time they attack, we chase them away and capture more territory.”

Such is the closeness of the two forces that sometimes the al-Shabaab attack the AMISOM forces using stones.

“When you call al-Shabaab, they answer back with insults,” said Ondoga.

According to Ondoga, the capture of eight more positions brought the total share of Mogadishu by the government to around 50%.

“This is the largest share ever enjoyed by the government since AMISOM came to Mogadishu three years ago.

The force deployed tanks at the frontline to counter any threats.

“In September, they came as far as Malkalamu Road, the major avenue in Mogadishu, but we pushed them further,” said AMISOM spokesman Maj. Bahoku Barigye.

Gunshots can be heard almost every hour at the frontline.

“The al-Shabaab fire at our positions all the time and we fire back. If we do not fire constantly, it becomes dangerous for us because they take positions and attack,” said Lt. Col. Francis Chemonges, the in-charge of the Ugandan Battle Group 5, which is in charge of Urubah, JUBA, Fishbay and other areas.

The best way to stop this endless firing, Ondoga said, is to capture more of the high ground.

He said their next move will be to capture Bakara market. However, he added, their plan had been hampered by lack of troops to take over rear positions and consolidate new ones.

“That objective is achievable. All that we need is more soldiers on the ground. Our current 8,000 troops are not enough,” Ondoga said.

President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday made a surprise visit to Mogadishu, becoming the first foreign head of state to set foot there in almost 20 years, officials said.

Museveni, who was accompanied by a group of army officers, spent several hours in Mogadishu, arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon,.

While inspecting the peacekeepers’ bases, Museveni appealed for more international support to bolster the African Union (AU) force.

“We want more troops from Uganda or from anywhere in Africa. Uganda is a country of 33 million people so we could mobilise three million people. But who will pay for it? International support is not enough. They don’t take the Somali problem seriously,” Museveni said.

He also met with Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, new prime minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and other officials, AMISOM officials said.

Museveni’s visit comes a day after Somali lawmakers overcame differences over the new prime minister, a relatively newcomer to Somali politics, and approved the cabinet he appointed.

The AU and the seven-nation east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development have promised to take about 20,000 troops to Somalia.

Source: New Vision Online

Monday, November 29, 2010

Minnesota reacts with dismay to Oregon plot

As rumors swirled about a relative of the teen's living here, the Somali community worried about a backlash.

Abdirizak Bihi was sleeping when his cell phone rang before dawn Saturday.

He ignored the call and one that followed minutes later.

But when his cell kept ringing, Bihi, a Somali community activist who has been heavily involved in educating local Somalis about the threat of terrorism, finally picked up. When he did, a friend on the other end delivered stunning news:

Federal agents had arrested a Somali-born teenager in connection with a car-bomb plot in Portland, Oregon.

"It was shocking," said Bihi, whose 18-year-old nephew was killed in Mogadishu last year after being recruited by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

Many in Minneapolis' Somali community shared Bihi's dismay Saturday as news of the foiled attack spread throughout the city, home to the largest concentration of Somali refugees in the United States.

From Riverside Avenue coffee shops to the bustling Somali malls in south Minneapolis, Somali-Americans were buzzing with the news and scrambling to learn more about the suspect, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19.

Among the rumors circulating Saturday was that the teen has a stepmother in Minneapolis.

Omar Jamal, former director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said he talked with members of the Somali community in Portland who told him that they are trying to find the stepmother, whose name Jamal did not know. Mohamud's father is believed to live in the Portland area, Jamal said.

Bihi said he also had heard that Mohamud may have a relative in Minnesota. "If it turns out to be true, it wouldn't be a surprise, because everybody who comes from Somalia has a relative here," Bihi said. "Minnesota is the hub."

Minnesota recently has been at the heart of one of the largest counterterrorism investigations since Sept. 11, 2001. The focus stems from the recruitment of 20 or more young men, nearly all of Somali descent, by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

The investigation has resulted in more than a dozen indictments, and FBI officials say there is concern that some could return to commit violence here. To date, however, they have said that they have no indication that will happen.

FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson, based in Minneapolis, said on Saturday that the Portland case has no apparent connection to the Minnesota investigation.

Jamal said Mohamud's alleged actions should not reflect on the Somali community in Minnesota. Nevertheless, many fear a backlash.

"A lot of people are saying, 'What's next?'" Bihi said.

Osman Dagane, 42, a cabdriver who became a U.S. citizen in 1996, said that the moment he heard Mohamud was Somali, "it affected me."

"People need to know," Dagane said, that Somalis "who come into this country as refugees don't think like that ... I have a responsibility to ... defend this country."

Mohammed Rashid, 44, who owns a Minneapolis limousine service, called Mohamud's plot "evil" and urged Somali-Americans to work with authorities.

"Thank God anything didn't happen," he said. "Again, we have to be vigilant. We have to be awake." • 612-673-4425 • 612-673-4921

Source: The Sar Tribune

Somali prime minister prioritizes

UB graduate hoping to improve his homeland

By Jay Rey
News Staff Reporter

The story of Mohamed A. Mohamed is extraordinary: A guy with a family, house in the suburbs and a state job in Buffalo ends up as prime minister of Somalia.

Unfortunately, this is no fairy tale.

Somalia may be the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Pirates roam the waters, kidnappers lie in wait and rebel militants rule much of the country. There's recurring drought, more than a third of the population relies on food aid and infant mortality is among the highest in the world.

What's worse, the country has become a breeding ground for terrorists, making the future of this nation on the Horn of Africa an international dilemma.

And there, tasked with the Herculean job of stabilizing the most unstable of countries, is a guy from Buffalo -- a University at Buffalo graduate, a father of four from Grand Island, a state Department of Transportation employee with an office on Main Street.

"It's not easy," said Mohamed, 48. "There has not been an effective government for 20 years, and you're fighting against a highly effective al-Qaida regime without Western support. It's very, very difficult."

Mohamed spoke briefly with The Buffalo News by phone from the Somali capital of Mogadishu, where he has been since October, when this relative unknown took Somalia by surprise and was appointed prime minister.

His sudden, improbable rise began in September.

Mohamed, a Somali native who resettled in Buffalo more than 20 years ago, traveled to New York City, where he managed to speak with Somalia's president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was giving a speech at the United Nations.

"When the president came to New York, I visited him to give him some ideas and suggestions about how the Somali community can be helpful to the government and their homeland," Mohamed said.

"At the time, he was looking for candidates for prime minister. I gave him some suggestions, also my background and experience working for the government of Somalia in the past, and he thought I might be a candidate," Mohamed said. "He asked me to submit my resume. I was shocked."

He has called on a friend from Amherst to help.

Mohamed recently appointed an 18-member cabinet, which included Abdiweli M. Ali, of Amherst.

Ali, a fellow Somali, Harvard graduate and an associate professor of economics at Niagara University since 2003, will serve as Somalia's minister of planning and international cooperation.

"I know he's very capable and highly respected," Mohamed said. "We need someone who can do some economic forecasting and planning. I thought he'd be very good at that."

Mohamed spoke mostly about the problems facing Somalia, and what he wants to do as prime minister, a position that lasts only until August.

"My first priority is to provide law and order, and to bring peace and stability to Somalia," Mohamed said. "The second thing is to create an effective government without any corruption. There's a lot of corruption."

It's an overwhelming job, and way too big for someone who has lived outside Somalia nearly half his life and has no experience in international politics, said one foreign policy analyst. For the sake of Somalia, and international order, one hopes Mohamed can accomplish more than his "hapless predecessors" did in the 15 interim Somali regimes since 1991, wrote J. Peter Pham, a professor at James Madison University.

But don't count on it.

"In statecraft, it is generally not prudent to count on miracles happening," wrote Pham, vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York City. "Given the enormous challenges the new prime minister faces -- to say nothing about his rather flawed record to date -- a backup plan is definitely called for."

Struggling for support

The country of 9 million people is roughly the size of Texas, and has not had a central government since 1991, when the president was overthrown and much of this coastal nation along the Indian Ocean was thrust into lawlessness and warfare.

A U.N.-backed transitional government was set up, but is generally seen as weak, corrupt and headed by ineffective leaders who have failed time and again to reconcile a nation divided by clans.

"The root cause is always the same," said Hodan Isse, a Somali native and finance professor at the University at Buffalo. "Each government that was established, they mostly thought about their own self-interest, empowering their own clans and getting themselves rich."

In reality, the fragile transitional government -- guarded by several-thousand African peacekeepers -- controls only a small portion of the southern capital, and fights for survival against an Islamic insurgent movement.

The al-Qaida-connected Al-Shabaab dominates much of central and southern Somalia.

"They are free to move around, because they are in control," Mohamed said. "My government is serious about destroying this group, but I don't think we can do it without the resources."

In that sense, Mohamed said, Somalia is not unlike Afghanistan, but the country struggles to get more financial support from abroad.

"The only way you can get a job is to join the army," Mohamed said, "and if we don't have the resources to pay a decent salary, they will join Al-Shabaab."

Can he handle his new role?

Mohamed remains positive, as he tries to build an army and build morale.

"Everything I do here is a success," Mohamed said, "because there's nothing as far as government institutions."

'A very good guy'

Mohamed has a knack for positioning himself, beginning as a young man working in the office of the Somali Embassy in Washington during the late 1980s.

His country's political upheaval prevented him from returning home, and he sought asylum in the United States, where he eventually earned citizenship.

He resettled in Buffalo, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from UB in 1993, and worked his way into local political circles.

He served as a commissioner for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, then was a case manager for City Hall's lead-abatement program under the Masiello administration. Mohamed worked on Joel Giambra's Erie County executive campaign, and in 2000 landed a job as minority business coordinator in county government.

"He was a good listener, he had good leadership skills and he understood American politics," Giambra said. "He had a desire to be helpful to the people from his homeland that were here, and he became their advocate."

Mohamed became a leader in the Somali and refugee communities in Buffalo.

"He's a very good guy, very honest," said Mohamed Haji, 26, of Hamburg.

"He's soft-spoken," said Hassan Farah, 24, of Buffalo, "but he's very persuasive."

A civil rights manager with the DOT since 2002, Mohamed earned a master's in American Studies from UB last year and had aspirations of one day seeking state office, said his younger brother, Hassan.

But Mohamed always kept one eye on his homeland, where he still had ties to officials and his clan in the south.

"He was very reluctant to go, but he finally decided," Hassan Mohamed said. "I'm very proud of him, and I hope he helps Somalia, because Somalia has been suffering for a very long time."

The situation is dangerous and volatile.

Is he scared?

"No," Mohamed said. "If I was scared, I wouldn't be here."

A community victory

Mohamed has brought pride to the local Somali community, which has grown by the hundreds in recent years as more refugees are resettled in upstate cities like Buffalo.

Somalis recently celebrated their homeland's new prime minister in an Amherst banquet hall.

"It's like a victory party," Haji said. "It's the same way I felt about Barack Obama being elected president."

Mohamed's success will ultimately depend on whether he can win the confidence of the Somali people and work with the 500-plus members of parliament, Isse said.

But so far, she likes what she sees from her friend, Mohamed.

He has included Somali women in the dialogue, spoke out against child soldiering and reduced the size of his cabinet from 42 to 18, she said.

And she liked his choice of cabinet members: her husband is Ali, the cabinet member from Niagara.

Friends also point to the recent release of a British husband and wife, who were captured by Somali pirates.

"I don't know the details," said Warren Whitlock, Mohamed's boss at the DOT, "but I would have to believe Mohamed played a significant role in the release of that British couple."

Mohamed misses his wife, Zeinab, and four children, ages 8 to 19, who have remained behind in Western New York.

So why go back? Why take the job?

How could he not, Mohamed said.

"When I hear piracy, when I hear children dying, when I hear starvation, when I hear al-Qaida functioning there, all of these things bother me," Mohamed said. "I thought that I had some responsibility to come back here and contribute."


Uganda president makes historic visit to Somali capital

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday made a surprise visit to the Somali capital Mogadishu, becoming the first foreign head of state to set foot there in almost 20 years, officials said.

Museveni spent several hours in Mogadishu, arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon, officials with the African Union force AMISOM said.

The veteran Ugandan leader was accompanied by a group of army officers and visited Ugandan troops, who form the bulk of the 7,500-strong peacekeeping force.

Museveni met with Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, new Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and other officials, AMISON officials said.

Somalia is widely seen as one of the world's most dangerous countries and is almost entirely in the hands of Islamist insurgents fighting to overthrow the UN-backed transitional government. The insurgents also control most of the capital itself.

"President Yoweri Museveni arrived in Mogadishu today and met with government officials including the president, prime minister and the speaker, ... and he discussed with them the achievements so far attained in terms of security," Major Ba-Hoku Barigye, spokesman of the AU force in Mogadishu, said.

"He was also carrying a message of solidarity for the people of Somalia who were affected by the violence and, of course, as a commander-in-chief he visited his forces," he added.

Museveni also visited injured civilians receiving treatment in an AMISOM field hospital.

Somalia's transitional government owes its survival to the backing it receives from the some 7,500 Ugandan and Burundian troops that make up the AU force.

Radical Shebab Islamists, linked to Al-Qaeda, have vowed to overthrow the transitional government and its foreign backers, whom they frequently target.

The AU force regularly comes in for criticism for its presumed role in civilian casualties when it retaliates against Shebab attacks.

A Somali government statement thanked Museveni for the visit, saying it was the first by a foreign head of state in almost 20 years.

Museveni's visit comes the day after Somali lawmakers overcame differences over the new prime minister Mohamed, a relative newcomer to Somali politics, and approved the cabinet he appointed.

"The two presidents discussed ways of ... cooperating in marshalling the support necessary for the new Somali government to fulfill its duties," a government statement said.

Parliament took more than two weeks to endorse Mohamed, eventually doing so on October 31. The vote to endorse the 18-member cabinet that the new prime minister unveiled on November 12 was also delayed several time as lawmakers argued over how voting should be carried out.

President Sharif's appointment of Mohamed led to a bitter dispute with the parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, revealing continuing rifts within the transitional administration's key players.

Since its formation in Kenya in 2004, the transitional government has failed to assert its authority on the Somali territory, 80 percent of which is currently controlled by the Shebab.

The new cabinet only has a few months to break the back of the insurgency and reclaim the capital and other key cities before the transitional government's mandate expires in August next year.

Somalia has been without a credible central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Source: AFP

Seattle Somali community fears bomb plot backlash

Seattle's Somali community is afraid of a backlash after the holiday bomb threat was uncovered in Portland.

Seattle residents with a Somali background told KOMO-TV they are concerned that people will think all Somali Muslims are potential terrorists.

The director of the Somali Community Center in Seattle says she fears people will retaliate against the Somali community, one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Seattle.

"I know I'm gonna be getting a lot of phone calls again - and some people getting harassed, or getting hurt," Sahra Farah told KOMO-TV.

Farah said some Somali Muslims were harassed after 9/11 and in September of last year, when a Somali-American suicide bomber from Seattle was accused of killing 21 peacekeepers in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Last month, a woman was arrested after allegedly attacking two Muslim women from Somalia at a Tukwila gas station.

According to court documents, Jennifer Jennings called the women "terrorists" and "suicide bombers." She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Arslan Bukhari of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which works to improve relations between non-Muslim Americans and Muslims, also worries about the potential for more violence.

"We don't want a backlash by persons who are driven to believe that somehow the Somali-American community, or the Muslim-American community, had something to do with this," Bukhari said.

The incident in Portland has Purple Heart recipient Harry Pickett defending the safety of America.

Pickett served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq until an improvised explosive device destroyed his armored Humvee in 2008.

He told KING-TV he believes his home turf is safer than any area he patrolled during his deployment in Iraq. He cited the undercover sting operation that caught the teen, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, as a prime example.

"With them setting him up and everything, I mean, how many times does that go on and a lot of us don't know about it?" he asked. "Every once in a while they might get a lucky shot in, but I think for the most part we're more protected than a lot of people might think."


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fire at Oregon Islamic center; no injuries

AP Photo - The Salman Al-Farisi Center in Corvallis, Ore. is photographed on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, who allegedly planned a bombing in Portland, Ore. during Friday's Christmas tree lighting ceremony, attended this center.

Officials say a fire burned part of a Corvallis mosque that was the occasional place of worship for a Somali-born teen who two days ago was arrested on charges of plotting a terror attack in Portland.

Yosof Wanly, imam at the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center, said 80 percent of the center's office was burned Sunday morning but the worship areas were untouched. No one was injured.

Wanly said he did not know whether the fire was started by an arsonist.

The Islamic center was frequented by Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old held on charges of plotting to carry out a terror attack at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland on Friday.

The Somali-born university student met with an undercover FBI agent in August at a Portland hotel and told him he had found the perfect location for a terrorist attack: the city's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud told the agent that he had dreamed of carrying out an attack for years, and the city's Pioneer Courthouse Square would be packed with thousands, "a huge mass that will ... be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays," according to an affidavit.

On Friday, Mohamud parked what he thought was a bomb-laden van near the ceremony and then went to a nearby train station, where he dialed a cell phone that he believed would detonate the vehicle. Instead, federal authorities moved in and arrested him. No one was hurt.

The case is the latest in a string of alleged terrorist plots by U.S. citizens or residents, including one at Times Square in which a Pakistan-born man pleaded guilty earlier this year to trying to set off a car bomb at a busy street corner.

Officials said Mohamud had no formal ties to foreign terror groups, although he had reached out to suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

Authorities have not explained how a young Muslim man described by friends as an average university student who drank an occasional beer and hung out with fraternity friends became so radicalized.

Mohamud is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, and it wasn't clear if he had a lawyer yet.

FBI agents say they began investigating after receiving a tip from an unidentified person who expressed concern about Mohamud.

At 15, he told undercover agents, he made a prayer for guidance, "about whether I should ... go, you know, and make jihad in a different country or to make like an operation here."

Mohamud graduated from high school in Beaverton, although few details of his time there were available Saturday. He dropped out of Oregon State University in Corvallis on Oct. 6, the school said. He hadn't declared a major.

Yosof Wanly, imam at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, said Mohamud was a normal student who went to athletic events, drank the occasional beer and was into rap music and culture.

Wanly said Mohamud was religious but didn't come to the mosque consistently.

Early Sunday, a fire was reported at the islamic center, and Wanly said 80 percent of the center's office was burned, but the worship areas were untouched.

Authorities in Corvallis told The Oregonian they are investigating the blaze, which was contained to one room. They have not said how it started.

Beginning in August 2009, court documents allege, Mohamud began e-mail communications with a friend overseas who had studied in Oregon, asking how he could travel to Pakistan and join the fight for jihad.

The e-mail exchanges led the FBI to believe that Mohamud's friend in Pakistan "had joined others involved in terrorist activities" and was inviting Mohamud to join him, prosecutors say.

Mohamud tried to board a flight to Kodiak, Alaska, on June 14 of this year from Portland but wasn't allowed to board and was interviewed by the FBI, prosecutors say. Mohamud told the FBI he wanted to earn money fishing and then travel to join "the brothers." He said he had previously hoped to travel to Yemen but had never obtained a ticket or a visa.

Less than two weeks later an agent e-mailed Mohamud, pretending to be affiliated with one of the people overseas whom Mohamud had tried to contact.

Undercover agents then set up a series of face-to-face meetings with Mohamud at hotels in Portland and Corvallis. They persuaded Mohamud they were in contact with a "council" of jihadists that were interested in him, the documents say.

During their first meeting on July 30, Mohamud told an agent there were a number of ways he could help "the cause," ranging from praying five times a day to "becoming a martyr."

Mohamud replied he "thought of putting an explosion together but that he needed help doing so," the documents say.

At a second meeting on Aug. 19 at a Portland hotel, the agent brought another undercover agent, the documents said, and Mohamud told them he had selected Pioneer Courthouse Square for the bombing.

On Nov. 4, in the backcountry along Oregon's coast, agents convinced Mohamud that he was testing an explosive device — although the explosion was controlled by agents rather than the youth.

The affidavit said Mohamud was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could die, and that he could back out.

Prosecutors say after the trip to the backcountry, Mohamud made a video in the presence of one of the undercover agents, putting on clothes he described as "Sheik Osama style:" a white robe, red and white headdress, and camouflage jacket. He read a statement speaking of his dream of bringing "a dark day" on Americans and blaming his family for getting in the way.

"To my parents who held me back from Jihad in the cause of Allah. I say to them ... if you — if you make allies with the enemy, then Allah's power ... will ask you about that on the day of judgment, and nothing that you do can hold me back," he said.

Friday, an agent and Mohamud drove into downtown Portland to the white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert.

Authorities said they allowed the plot to proceed to obtain evidence to charge the suspect with attempt.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Saturday that President Barack Obama was aware of the FBI operation before Friday's arrest and was assured that the public was not in danger.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have resettled in the United States since their country plunged into lawlessness in 1991, and the U.S. has boosted aid to the country. In August, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment naming 14 people accused of being a deadly pipeline routing money and fighters from the U.S. to al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliated group in Mohamud's native Somalia.

FBI agent E.K. Wilson said there is no apparent connection between the bomb plot in Portland and the investigation he's overseeing into about 20 men who left Minneapolis to join al-Shabab in Somalia.

Officials have been working with Muslim leaders across the United States, particularly with the Somali community in Minnesota, trying to combat the radicalization.

Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Darlene Superville and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, William McCall in Portland, Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press

A Somali Teen, Lured Into 'Holy War' (Mogadishu)

Abdul Qadir Mohammed remembers the imam's powerful voice bouncing off the mosque's white walls. It was 2001, a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a decade into Somalia's anarchy. "Our religion must dominate until we die," the preacher declared.

On that day in the mosque, his heart pounded as he joined the worshipers in thunderous chants of "Allahu Akbar" - God is Great.

"It was the day I was born," Mohammed recalled.

Mohammed was 13 years old. He had never picked up a gun. But boys like him would soon be asked to sacrifice their lives for Islam. Mohammed felt no fear, only a sense of divine calling. "Everything in my life was about jihad," said Mohammed, now 22, who has a boyish face, faint mustache and walks with a slight limp.

"Everything still is."

Mohammed is part of a generation of young Somalis who, seeking solutions to their chaos, have embraced a messianic brand of Islam that today drives a brutal struggle for power and identity in the Horn of Africa. His path opens a window on the forces that have altered Somalia, a failed state and one of the world's most lethal post-Sept. 11 battlegrounds outside the theaters of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Mohammed and his peers came of age when Somalia's Islamist transformation was already under way. But it was Sept. 11 and its aftermath that gave the Islamist message new weight, shaped by U.S. counterterrorism policies and the animosity they have generated in the Muslim world.

His journey would take him from the mosques to an Islamist revolt against Somalia's secular warlords to al-Shabab, a militia linked to al-Qaida. He would fight in battle after battle, driven less by clan loyalties or politics than a conviction that his religion, and his nation's soul, was under siege. Ultimately, he would question al-Qaida's role in his country, a progression experienced by many militant Muslims since Sept. 11.

Mohammed, two sisters and a brother grew up in Jowhar, a south-central town founded by an Italian duke in the 19th century. His father was a cattle herder who often vanished for months at a time.

When Mohammed was 3, the socialist government of President Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed. Clans and warlords began fighting for control of territory.

As their country fractured, many Somalis sought comfort in a fundamentalist Islam that called for society to repent and rededicate itself to Allah's divine principles. Money from Saudi Arabia flowed in to build ultraconservative Wahhabist mosques, weakening the influence of the nation's moderate brand of Sufi Islam. Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a militant group loosely linked to Osama bin Laden, emerged in the early 1990s.

Against this backdrop, Mohammed's perceptions were colored by religion from an early age. He remembers his neighbors describing the American troops that led a 1993 United Nations peacekeeping mission as "nonbelievers." He did, too.

Mohammed's mother died when he was 6. He and his siblings moved to Mogadishu, Somalia's whitewashed, war-scarred capital, to live with their uncle. Most of the city's public schools had been destroyed or shuttered, and like most families, Mohammed's was too poor to send their children to private school.

So Mohammed attended a free Koranic school run by religious leaders and al-Itihaad members. The Islamists had founded a system of Islamic courts that dispensed sharia law and provided social services such as health care and education, filling the void left by a shattered state system.

In addition to memorizing the Koran, he learned Arabic. He never missed the obligatory five prayers a day and attended Friday prayers at the mosque with devotion.

"I opened my eyes inside the Koranic school," Mohammed said.

He grew distant from his family and spent more time at the mosque. He listened to conversations about the plight of the Palestinians and shared the anger over the support of Israel by Washington and its allies.

"The world seemed to him black and white," recalled Abdiraheem Addo, a former spokesman for the Islamic courts who is now a military commander in Somalia's transitional government.

— — —

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mohammed said he felt empowered as he stared at the television screen. He was proud that Muslims had learned to pilot planes to target America and defend Islam.

"I was like any other young Somali who was happy with striking the nonbelievers," he said. "Osama bin Laden was my hero. He had my heart."

In the aftermath, the Bush administration declared al-Itihaad a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida. U.S. officials had implicated the group in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Money-transfer networks that Somalis depended on were also shut down as concerns grew that they were being used to move money for al-Qaeda. At Mohammed's mosque, anger punctuated the sermons and people grew more resentful of the United States.

For the first time, Mohammed said he felt that the United States and its allies were directly targeting him and his countrymen.

"America's response after September 11 was too aggressive," he said. "That created anger and only added fuel to the fire."

As U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, Mohammed was tormented by the deaths of fellow Muslims in airstrikes and bombings. "I was convinced they were victims of an oppressive invasion," he said. "I felt America wanted to occupy the whole Middle East."

Mohammed began to view Somalia's own history through the prism of Sept. 11. He was happy that American soldiers had been killed here in 1993, some brutally, their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

"It was wrong of them to come here," he said. "The sense that America was the enemy was growing inside me."

— — —

One day in the summer of 2005, when Mohammed was 16, a group of men approached him at the mosque. They wanted him to join a new militia called the Islamic Courts Union. "They were interested in children like me," Mohammed said. "I didn't have much knowledge. I had no idea where to find a job."

By then, the Islamic Courts was fighting a coalition of warlords that many Somalis believed was being covertly financed by the United States. The warlords presented themselves as a counterterrorism alliance determined to root out radical Islam and al-Qaida in Somalia. But to the Islamists, the warlords were puppets of Washington.

And that's how the men, over cups of hot sweet tea, convinced Mohammed.

"They told me I was joining a jihad to liberate my country and my religion," he said. "Eventually, I decided this was the right path."

His uncle was devastated.

"I felt like my heart was taken away from me," Ali recalled. "They tricked him."

Six weeks after learning how to fire an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades, Mohammed was dispatched to the front line. In mid-2006 he helped to wrest his home town of Jowhar from the control of a powerful warlord widely thought to be on the U.S. payroll.

"We overwhelmed his fighters," Mohammed said with pride. "I felt no fear. I was hearing the sound of the bullets, nothing more."

Mohammed quickly earned a reputation as a fierce fighter. Ali Abdirahman Abukar, an Islamic Courts fighter, remembered how Mohammed single-handedly defended a position for more than an hour during a clash in Mogadishu.

But what Abukar and other comrades remember most about Mohammed was his extreme devotion to Islam, how he gravitated to the group's radical factions. "He was a hard-liner," said Abukar, now 20 and a soldier with Somalia's transitional government.

Mohammed's mentor, Aden Hashi Ayro, was a veteran of al-Itihaad who had trained in Afghanistan and had ties to al-Qaida. He allegedly orchestrated the assassinations of 16 people, including four Western aid workers, according to the International Crisis Group, a respected think tank.

In December 2006, Ethiopian troops, with covert backing from the Bush administration, invaded Somalia to oust the Islamists. Somalis viewed Ethiopia as "the Israel of Africa" because it received support from Washington despite its aggressive policies, said Sheik Mohammed Asad Abdullahi, an al-Shabab commander who defected.

Many Islamists believed they were engaged not only in a nationalist struggle but also in a larger clash between Islam and the West.

"It was very clear that we were not only fighting the Ethiopians but also the Western world," Mohammed said.

The Ethiopian forces pushed the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu. A few months later, a rift broke apart the Islamists; two militias, al-Shabab and Hezb-i-Islam, emerged as independent forces, more radical than ever. Some of Somalia's powerful clans backed al-Shabab to counter the Ethiopians and an African Union peacekeeping force that replaced the Ethiopians last year.

Ayro became a top leader, and Mohammed was among the first to be recruited as a commander in charge of 60 fighters. Most were younger than he was. He was paid $400 a month, a princely sum here.

"He believed in al-Shabab's ideology," said Abdul Rashid Noor, 23, a former Islamic Courts member who now fights for the government. "We knew we were different from each other."

Many al-Shabab fighters believed they were waging jihad against America and its allies who backed Somalia's transitional government and the peacekeepers, Abdullahi said. "Many were brainwashed by September 11 and the events after."

Within months, al-Shabab had taken over much of south and central Somalia, nearly a third of the country. The militia imposed a harsh interpretation of Islam, carrying out public amputations and banning movies, soccer, even bras. Mohammed witnessed the beheading of two men accused of being informants. Their heads were posted on poles in a market to serve as a warning. It didn't upset him, he said.

Nor was he troubled when a young woman accused of adultery was stoned to death. "When a woman commits adultery, she will be killed by stoning. That's the law under Islam," he said, adding that her partner should have been stoned to death, too.

Then on May 1, 2008, an American airstrike killed Ayro inside his home. "They killed our hero," Mohammed said. "I knew the Americans were interfering in Somalia all the time after that."

Another date also haunts Mohammed: Dec. 3, 2009.

On that day, an al-Shabab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated explosives during a medical school graduation ceremony at the Shamo Hotel. The attack killed 22 civilians and three government ministers.

"Many students and their parents died. Many young doctors died," Mohammed said. "That was the turning point."

In the weeks before the bombing, he had begun to notice that more foreign al-Shabab fighters were attending meetings for the militia's senior leaders. "Decisions are being taken by foreigners, not Somalis," he said.

Mohammed said he was startled by the militia's severe tactics. He was fighting to get rid of American and Western influence in Somalia, to enshrine a pure brand of Islam - not to indiscriminately kill innocent Somali civilians. "Those who have direct contact with al-Qaida want to export jihad to the West," he said. "But I know that many Shabab only want to liberate their country from the foreigners."

In February, al-Shabab publicly declared allegiance to al-Qaida. While he still considered bin Laden a hero, Mohammed was conflicted by the development. Nearly a decade after Sept. 11, many in the Muslim world were questioning bin Laden's philosophies and tactics. In Somalia, al-Shabab's harsh measures and al-Qaida-like attacks were increasingly alienating the population.

"I thought we would lose the support of the normal people of Somalia," Mohammed said.

Some of his former comrades, who now worked for the government, encouraged him to leave the militia. Four months ago, he hopped into a taxi, crossed into government-controlled territory and defected.

In July, al-Shabab orchestrated bombings in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, killing more than 70 World Cup fans. It was the militia's first international attack.

Mohammed moved to Villa Somalia, a compound of buildings that includes the home of Somali President Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist who once led the Islamic Courts. Government security officials placed Mohammed there, in part to protect him, and in part to make sure he's not a spy or a double agent.

Two camouflage uniforms hung on a clothesline in his room. In one corner were his life possessions: a small radio, a bar of soap, a bottle of body lotion and a green bag stuffed with clothes.

He has no plans to settle down. "I am a warrior. I do not need a wife," he said.

In another corner, a stack of Somali news clippings, downloaded from the Internet, were scattered. They were about al-Shabab's brutality; the most recent was dated Aug. 16, 2010. It was about a man whose tongue had been cut off for speaking out against the militia. "Any bad thing they do, I collect it," Mohammed said. "I am their enemy now."

His ideology, though, has not changed. Mohammed said, "You can't be Muslim without accepting sharia." He approved of al-Shabab's ban on soccer, arguing that youth would join the militia as an alternative and help liberate their country. He said he believed that women should cover their face and that limbs of convicted thieves must be hacked off.

"My religion does not allow music. It is forbidden for Muslims," Mohammed said. He added that "our religion forbids" racy Bollywood films, too. And women should not wear bras.

"Bras are like creams to whiten skin. They are a trick. You should be normal," he said. "That's what it says in our religion."

Mohammed refuses to believe allegations of Ayro's brutality. Instead, he said, Ayro was "merciful" and those who led al-Shabab after his death "are merciless and more radical than he was."

He said he no longer considers America "a legitimate target." But when asked by this journalist, an American, what he would have done if he had met him a few months ago, Mohammed replied without hesitation: "I would have slaughtered you. And they would have promoted me."

Few trust Mohammed. A few days earlier, a mortar landed in the compound, near his building, killing four African Union peacekeepers. Shortly after he allowed this journalist to visit his room, Ugandan peacekeepers threw Mohammed in prison for breach of security. Somali security officials secured his release, but Muhammed was summoned that night for interrogation. He was later asked to leave the government compound.

On a recent day, Mohammed passed through a desolate patch of Mogadishu. He walked fast. His eyes darted left, right. Then he glanced behind his back. He knew al-Shabab spies worked in government-controlled areas.

Since his defection, his former comrades have delivered death threats. He has no salary. His life hinges on his only skill.

"I am ready to fight," he declared. "I am ready for anything."

Source:The San Francisco Examiner

Saturday, November 27, 2010

FBI thwarts terrorist bombing attempt at Portland holiday tree lighting, authorities say

Mohamed Osman Mohamud

The FBI thwarted an attempted terrorist bombing in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square before the city's annual tree-lighting Friday night, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon.

A Corvallis man, thinking he was going to ignite a bomb, drove a van to the corner of the square at Southwest Yamhill Street and Sixth Avenue and attempted to detonate it.

However, the supposed explosive was a dummy that FBI operatives supplied to him, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint signed Friday night by U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born U.S. citizen, was arrested at 5:42 p.m., 18 minutes before the tree lighting was to occur, on an accusation of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The arrest was the culmination of a long-term undercover operation, during which Mohamud had been monitored for months as his alleged bomb plot developed.

"The device was in fact inert, and the public was never in danger," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The investigation involved the FBI, Oregon State Police, Portland Police Bureau, Corvallis Police Department and Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

Mohamud will appear in U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday.

"This defendant's chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people -- even here in Oregon -- who are determined to kill Americans," said Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton. "The good work of law enforcement protected Oregonians in this case -- and we have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."

According to the FBI affidavit, the case began in August 2009 when Mohamud was in e-mail contact with an unindicted associate overseas who was believed to be involved in terrorist activities. In December 2009, while the unindicted associate was in a frontier province of Pakistan, Mohamud and the associate discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to participate in violent jihad.

The associate allegedly referred Mohamud to a second associate overseas and provided him with a name and e-mail address. In the months that followed, Mohamud made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the second associate.

Ultimately, an FBI undercover operative contacted Mohamud in a June 2010 e-mail under the guise of being an associate of the first unindicted associate.

Mohamud and the FBI operative agreed to meet in Portland a month later. Mohamud allegedly told the FBI operative that he had written articles that were published in Jihad Recollections, an online magazine that advocated holy war.
The FBI thwarted a bomb plot at the tree lighting at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday night.

Torsten Kjellstrand / The OregonianThe FBI thwarted a bomb plot at the tree lighting at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday night.
Mohamud also indicated he intended to become "operational," meaning he wanted to put an explosion together but needed help. The two met again in August 2010 in a Portland hotel.

"During this meeting, Mohamud explained how he had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of 15," the affidavit says. "Mohamud then told (the FBI operatives) that he had identified a potential target for a bomb: the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26, 2010."

The FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of his plan, noting that there would be many people, including children, at the event, and that Mohamud could abandon his plans at any time with no shame.

"You know there's going to be a lot of children there?" an FBI operative asked Mohamud. "You know there are gonna be a lot of children there?"

Mohamud allegedly responded he was looking for a "huge mass that will ... be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays."

Mohamud dismissed concerns about law enforcement, explaining that, " ... It's in Oregon; and Oregon, like, you know, nobody ever thinks about," according to the affidavit.

"The threat was very real," said Oregon's FBI Special Agent in Charge Arthur Balizan. "Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale. At the same time, I want to reassure the people of this community that, every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack."

Mohamud maintained his interest in carrying out the attack and spent months working on logistics.

He allegedly identified a location to place the bomb and mailed bomb components to the FBI operatives, who he believed were assembling the device. He also mailed them passport photos so he could sneak out of the country after the attack, according to the affidavit.

He provided the FBI operatives with a thumbdrive that contained detailed directions to the bomb location and operational instructions for the attack.

On Nov. 4, Mohamud and the FBI operatives traveled to a remote spot in Lincoln County, where they detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack as a trial run for the upcoming attack.

On the drive back to Corvalis, FBI operatives quizzed Mohamud about whether he was capable of looking at the bodies of those who would be killed in his planned Portland attack.

"I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured," Mohamud reportedly told the FBI operatives, the affidavit says.

Later that day, Mohamud recorded a video of himself with the FBI operatives in which he read a written statement offering his reasons for the planned Portland bombing.

On Nov. 18, FBI operatives picked up Mohamud to travel to Portland, where they would finalize details of the attack.

David S. Kris, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, said, "The complaint alleges that Mohamud attempted to detonate what he believes to be a vehicle bomb at a crowded holiday event in downtown Portland, but a coordinated undercover law enforcement action was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed. "

Source: Oregon Live

Somali double amputee recognized by UN as refugee

Ismael Khalif Abdulle, 17, puts a Canadian flag sticker on his head after saying he wants to come to Canada. Ismael is a double amputee after Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked insurgency, cut off his right hand and left foot as punishment for not joining his group.

A teenaged victim of Somalia’s war is another step closer to safety this week and holding out hope that he’ll find it in Canada.

Ismael Khalif Abdulle, the 18-year-old double amputee whose story inspired one Canadian man to rescue him from Mogadishu and started a movement here known as “Project Ismael,” has been recognized by the United Nations as a refugee in need of protection.

Ismael had escaped from Mogadishu to Nairobi last month with the help of an underground network of supporters.

But until he received status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as someone in need of protection, and was given what’s known as a “mandate refugee certificate,” Ismael was at risk of being deported back to Somalia from Kenya.

UNHCR resettlement officials are now meeting with Ismael and trying to decide his future home. His case has been given high priority since he is still at risk in Nairobi due to the infiltration of Al Shabaab — the Somali-based movement that has been designated a terrorist group in both the U.S. and Canada.

Al Shabaab controls most of central and southern Somalia, including the neighbourhood where Ismael once lived. When he refused to join them in the summer of 2009, they kidnapped him with three other boys and publicly amputated their right hands and left feet as a warning to others.

The other three young men are still hiding and their whereabouts are unknown.

Reached in Nairobi on Friday, Ismael said he was adjusting to life outside of Somalia and trying to learn English — before he tries to tackle Swahili.

He said he told the UNHCR resettlement officer that he had hoped Canada would accept him as a refugee.

“She asked me where I wanted to go and I said, ‘Canada.’ But she told me Canada is going to be quite tough and would you go anywhere else? I said, my preference is Canada but anywhere I could be safe would be fine,” he said.

Applications processed through Nairobi’s Canadian High Commission are among the slowest in the world, partly due to the volume of applications. And while there has been an outpouring of support for Ismael within Toronto’s Somali community and among the city’s social agencies, he does not have a close relative here.

Ismael’s father has died and his mother and siblings still live in Somalia.

Three of his siblings from his father’s first marriage, however, have offered to support him in Norway and Finland where they had lived for the last two decades since leaving Somalia.

“We’ve been trying to do what we can,” said Saido, his 42-year-old half-sister in a telephone interview from Finland.

The mother of four said she has been so touched by the outpouring of support by Canadians for her little brother.


Saudi Arabia arrests 149 suspected of Qaeda links

Saudi Arabia has arrested 149 people from 19 cells linked to al Qaeda over the past 8 months and foiled attacks against government and security officials, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The announcement comes as elderly Saudi King Abdullah is in the United States recovering from surgery to treat a blood clot complication from a slipped disc.

"In the past eight months 149 people linked to al Qaeda were arrested, among them were 124 Saudis and 25 were from other nationalities," Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told a news conference.

The non-Saudi suspects were Arabs, Africans and South Asians, he said, adding that the thwarted cells had links to al Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.

"These cells have links with al Qaeda who are disturbing the security in Yemen, with Somalia and organizations in Afghanistan," Turki said.

The ministry confiscated 2.24 million riyals ($597,000) from al Qaeda suspects, he said, and militants had tried to collect money and spread their ideology during the Muslim pilgrimages of Haj and Umra in Saudi Arabia.

Turki also said the attackers were also planning to target government facilities but did not say whether they included oil installations.

The television channel al Arabiya reported on Friday that the kingdom had also foiled plans to attack Saudi oil installations.

A Saudi Arabian counter-terrorism drive halted a violent al Qaeda campaign in the Gulf Arab country from 2003 to 2006. Al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi wings merged in 2009 into a new group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen.

"The organization is trying to recruit people inside the kingdom. There are cells that facilitate (the recruits) to travel outside (the kingdom) to train and then they return ... they exploit the Haj season for this purpose," Turki told journalists at the press conference.

Those who had donated money were not aware they were giving to militant organizations, he said.

Saudi concerns about al Qaeda's presence in Yemen surged after the kingdom's top anti-terrorism official, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was slightly hurt in a suicide attack in August last year by a Saudi posing as a repentant militant returning from Yemen.

The arrests announced on Friday follow one of the largest al Qaeda sweeps in years by Saudi Arabia earlier this year. In March, the kingdom arrested 113 al Qaeda militants including suicide bombers who had been planning attacks on energy facilities in the world's top oil exporter.

The March arrests netted 58 suspected Saudi militants and 52 from Yemen. The militants, who also came from Bangladesh, Eritrea and Somalia, were backed by the Yemen-based AQAP.

The arrested suspects will not be sent to a rehabilitation program, Turki said, but will be put on trial. They could be sent to rehabilitation programs after serving their sentences and showing repentance, he said.

There were still other suspects at large and the ministry asked that they turn themselves in, Turki said.

(Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Source: Reuters

Feds: Somali-born teen plotted car-bombing in Oregon

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was under FBI surveillance when he allegedly tried to set off the bomb Photo: AP
Federal agents in a sting operation stopped a Somali-born teenager from blowing up a van full of explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland on Friday, authorities said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would detonate the explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping down on him.

Yelling "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — Mohamud tried to kick agents and police as they closed in, according to prosecutors.

The bomb was a dud supplied by undercover agents as part of the sting and the public was never in danger, prosecutors said.

"This defendant's chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people — even here in Oregon — who are determined to kill Americans," U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said. "We have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."

Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Corvallis, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He's scheduled for a court appearance Monday.

The arrest comes as the U.S. has been struggling with an uptick in Americans or U.S. residents plotting terrorist attacks.

Holton released federal court documents that show the sting operation began in June after an undercover agent learned that Mohamud had been in contact with an "unindicted associate" in Pakistan's northwest, a frontier region where Al Qaida and Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents are strong.

"The complaint alleges that Mohamud attempted to detonate what he believed to be a vehicle bomb at a crowded holiday event," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "Law enforcement action was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed."

According to a federal complaint, Mohamud was in regular email contact with the "unindicted associate' in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier starting in August 2009.

The complaint states that in December 2009 Mohamud and the associate used coded language in an email in which the FBI believes Mohamud discussed traveling to Pakistan to prepare for "violent jihad."

In the months that followed Mohamud made 'multiple efforts" to contact another "undicted associate" to arrange travel to Pakistan but had a faulty email address for that person.

Last June an FBI agent contacted Mohamud "under the guise of being affiliated with the first associate."

Mohamud and the undercover agent agreed to meet in Portland on July 30. At that meeting, the undercover agent and Mohamud "discussed violent jihad," according to the court document.

Mohamud told the agent he wanted to set off explosives at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, an event that occurred on Friday.

On Friday, an undercover agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.

They got out of the van and walked to meet another undercover agent, who drove to Union Station, the Portland train station, where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the van, according to the complaint.

Mohamud dialed the phone agents had given him, and was told the bomb did not detonate. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car and try again to improve the signal, when he did, he was arrested, the complaint said.

U.S. authorities have been struggling against a recent spate of terror plans by U.S. citizens or residents.

In May, Faisal Shazhad, a naturalized citizen also from Pakistan, tried to set off a car bomb at a bustling street corner in New York City. U.S. authorities had no intelligence about Shahzad's plot until the smoking car turned up in Manhattan.

Late last month, Pakistan-born Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Virginia was arrested and accused of casing Washington-area subway stations in what he thought was an al-Qaida plot to bomb and kill commuters. Similar to the Portland sting, the bombing plot was a ruse conducted over the past six months by federal officials.

Also in October, a Hawaii man was arrested and accused of making false statements to the FBI about his plans to attend terrorist training in Pakistan.

In August, a Virginia man was caught trying to leave the country to fight with an al-Qaida-affiliated group in Somalia.

Source: The Associated Press

Friday, November 26, 2010

New country, new holiday, new foods for Minnesota immigrants

Surviving the cuisine of a new country is a challenge for immigrants; as it was for the pilgrims in the sixteenth century as it is now for new American immigrants. And so history goes that Natives Americans saw to it that the Pilgrims, the new immigrants, would not starve.

Somewhere along the way turkey, cranberry sauce and all the present day trimmings were added to what is now one of America's largest holidays.

While the rest of that story on the Native Americans and the Pilgrims would turn ugly, today Thanksgiving has become a day of giving thanks and feasting. So, how do today's immigrants celebrate Thanksgiving?

I don't remember much about my first Thanksgiving when I moved to Minnesota ten years ago. But I remember not liking either the pumpkin pie nor the cranberry sauce, both of which I was eating for the first time. Growing up in Kenya I had eaten turkey, stewed, not baked, and was impressed by the length of time this big bird spent in the oven. Over the years, I have gone through sleeping in on Thanksgiving to visiting friends in and outside Minnesota. This year I plan on making my way to the five Thanksgiving dinners that I have been invited to.

Jamal Hashi, chef and owner of the fast-food restaurant Safari Express will have two Thanksgiving celebrations this year. "My family never has time to get together so everyone will be coming over to Mom's for dinner," he explained. Hashi, who is of Somali descent, says that Eid has traditionally been the family-get-together holiday. However, Eid is not a public holiday in the United States, making it difficult for families to travel to be together away from school and work.

This popular Minnesota chef will be making turkey stew, roasted goat, Somali pilau, mandazi and baked potatoes for his family's Thanksgiving dinner. Later that evening he will have a second and more traditional Thanksgiving dinner with his friend Tim Decker.

For Decker, who was born in Bangladesh to American missionary parents, Thanksgiving is also a time to be with family and friends. His memory of celebrating Thanksgiving in Bangladesh is vague, but he is sure that turkeys were hard to come by. He tells of a friend who this year tried flying several turkeys to the Sudan.

For others like Jose Ramirez, an immigrant from El Salvador, Thanksgiving is a time to worship. Even though the holiday is not native to his home country, Ramirez said he has adopted the "gratitude" part of the holiday. For Thanksgiving, Ramirez will attend an evening service at a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church in St. Paul.

"In Laos, we don't have Thanksgiving, but I think the Hmong New Year is a similar holiday," said Ly Vang, a Laotian immigrant, who said his family celebrates both holidays. "This is a time to reflect and hope for better things for my family." He explained that several of his family members have lost their jobs this year. As for food, his family makes both baked and stewed turkey, mashed potatoes and will also include Hmong dishes like egg rolls and rice.

"Thanks. Giving. The name is nice. I like that. Giving Day. I really like the idea," said Shukri Gedi, whose holiday highlight is that her son will be home. She is excited because, never having been away from home, her son left for college, and a few days doting on him is more than she can ask for. An immigrant from Somalia, with Somali and Italian cuisine influences, Gedi has eaten Thanksgiving turkey only once. And she did not like it. "It was very dry." She will still give it a chance because she loves turkey sandwiches. She is not tempted to try cranberry, but will serve mashed potatoes and stuffing at the table for her family. Other foods that her family will enjoy this Thanksgiving are: goat meat, chicken, Somali rice and spaghetti.

An Indian immigrant, who only referred to himself as Kumar, is a little more hesitant to take the holiday in stride. "In India, families spend all the time together," he said. "The sense of nuclear family is very strong so we don't need a holiday to give thanks, we do it all the time." He will spend the day resting and eating vegetarian lasagna with friends.

Source: Daily Planet

Minnesota Business Man Killed in Somalia

Family members confirmed with FOX 9 that a Minnesota businessman was murdered in his homeland of Somalia. Bashir Abdi left for Somalia two weeks ago to help the country establish a new government, but his noble efforts may have cost him his life.

Abdi was a lawyer in Somalia, and left for Mogadishu to help the new prime minister set up a provisional government. He was apparently killed Tuesday morning, just a few blocks from the presidential palace.

In Minnesota, he’d been the owner of several clothing stores at a Somali mall near 24th and Chicago Avenue, where news of his assassination spread quickly. Friends told FOX 9 Abdi was very concerned about his safety going back to Somalia, but was intrigued by the idea he could make a difference.

The new prime minister in Somalia is Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, an American Somali from Buffalo, New York. Somalia hasn’t had a real government in 20 years.

Violence in Mogadishu from the Al Qaeda-linked group, Al-Shabab is an everyday occurrence. More than 2,000 civilians were killed in Mogadishu this year alone, most by indiscriminate shelling.

A few blocks around the presidential palace considered the only safe zone. The political context may also be important. In the last 48 hours, the prime minister’s been trying to shrink the cabinet from 39 to 18 ministers. But many of the clans believe they’re being excluded.

One militia commander even left the cabinet Tuesday, which further shrank the security zone around the presidential palace. Many of those clans are concerned about American influence in politics in Somalia, and some feared Abdi could have been seen as part of that American influence.

Resource:- Fox 9

Somali pirate gang who held Chandlers have families in Britain.... and one kidnapper's wife is an asylum seeker

Two members of the Somali pirate gang that held Britons Paul and Rachel Chandler hostage for 388 days are believed to have family in the UK.

One of the pirate leaders says he plans to travel to the UK to join his wife and two children, who have claimed political asylum and live in London.

The extraordinary revelations come as intelligence and security officials in the UK and Kenya investigate links between Britain and Somali pirates after the couple were freed from the 13-month ordeal in return for a ransom.

A second pirate involved in the seizing of the Chandlers is suspected to have lived in Britain and to have family living in London. It is unclear whether his family has also claimed asylum and whether either family receives benefits.
Both men are said to have received a ‘cut’ of the estimated £625,000 ransom paid for the release of Mr Chandler, 60, and his 57-year-old wife.
Investigators say the revelations raise the possibility of pirates travelling to Britain and of part of the ransom money being transferred to family members in the UK.

Their warnings come just weeks after Home Secretary Theresa May highlighted the links between British extremists and Somalia, with some UK citizens travelling there to train alongside Al Qaeda-linked groups. Anti-terrorist investigators believe some have returned to Britain and they have been looking at associations between the UK and pirate gangs, who currently hold some 40 ships and 500 crew hostage.

The Chandlers, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were seized as they sailed their yacht in the Indian Ocean, near the Seychelles, on October 23, 2009, and held in the harsh Somali bushland by heavily armed pirates.

They are recovering with their family, who paid part of the ransom, and will be questioned about their time in captivity and specifically the role and identities of individual pirates.
The couple will be shown intelligence photographs – and those from videos taken during their time in the hands of the pirates – to see if any can be identified by name and the roles they played.
Satellite and other telephone calls, together with emails sent from Somalia by suspects to the UK are also being examined and it is understood the identities of several of the gang are known.
Immigration investigators are now involved in the inquiry into their British links and seeking to discover whether individuals have visited the UK or have families here. ‘It is possible that some of those involved in piracy have British or other European citizenship and that is a worrying area which we are exploring,’ one investigator said.

In satellite calls, the pirates have alluded to links with Britain and a man named as Hassan, 32 – said to be one of the ringleaders of the Chandler abduction – was quoted as saying he had a wife and family in the UK and was planning to join them.
He claimed his family had moved to London three years ago, applying for political asylum.

‘She is putting me under pressure to join her and the children, so I will come to the UK soon,’ he said in one telephone call.
‘I am not looking forward to the cold weather, though, and I am worried that women are more powerful in the UK – I don’t know how long I will stay.’
Hassan has also admitted to being involved in the hijacking of tankers and commercial ships which were boarded at gunpoint and released only after multi-million pound ransoms were paid.
A key figure in assisting the investigation is likely to be Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye, a 56-year-old former minicab driver from East London, who played a significant role in securing the couple’s release.
Mr Kadiye, a father of two, who came to Britain from Somalia in 1997 as a refugee and has UK citizenship, met with the pirates and their representatives for six months trying to broker a deal to free the Chandlers.

Mr Kadiye, who is beginning a security company and travels regularly between the UK and Somalia, said he became involved for ‘humanitarian reasons’ and was hailed as a hero on his return to Britain.


Obama sets 2014 as goal to exit Afghanistan

President Obama on Saturday said for the first time he wants U.S. troops out of major combat in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the date he and other NATO leaders set for moving Afghans into the lead role in fighting the Taliban.

Allies had different interpretations of that target's meaning.

Capping a two-day summit of 28 NATO leaders in this Atlantic port city, Obama said that after a series of public disputes with Afghan President Hamid Karzai — and despite the likelihood of more to come — the U.S. and its NATO partners have aligned their aims for stabilizing the country with Karzai's eagerness to assume full control.

"My goal is to make sure that by 2014 we have transitioned, Afghans are in the lead and it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort we're involved in now," Obama told a closing news conference.

For some U.S. allies, 2014 is more than a goal when it comes to shifting their troops from a combat role.

"There will not be British troops in large numbers and they won't be in a combat role" by 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron said. But he added, Britain has no intention of abandoning Afghanistan any time soon.

"We may be helping to train their army, we may still be delivering a lot of aid, in effect, because we don't want this country to go back to being a lawless space where the terrorists can have bases," Cameron told Sky News television.

Canada is ending its combat role in 2011.

If Obama's expectation about ending the U.S. combat mission in 2014 holds, it would mark a turning point in a war now in its 10th year, a conflict that once appeared headed for success but that drifted into stalemate during George W. Bush's second term in the White House.

Obama entered office in 2009 pledging to end the Iraq war, which he opposed from the outset, in order to shift forces, resources and attention to Afghanistan — a fight he says the U.S. cannot afford to lose.

It remains far from sure, however, that even an expanding and improving Afghan army will prevail without U.S. combat support.

As the U.S. experience in Iraq showed, insurgencies can prove more resilient than predicted and newly assembled government security forces can take longer than expected to become competent and experienced enough to stand on their own.

At their annual gathering, NATO leaders also proclaimed "a true fresh start" in relations with Russia. They agreed to construct a missile defense over Europe, signed a long-term partnership accord with Afghanistan and expressed hope that the U.S. Senate would act quickly to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.