Philippine leader Duterte says he wants foreign troops out

President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking in a country that is a staunch U.S. ally and hosts 50,000 American troops, said Wednesday that he wants his country to be free of foreign troops, possibly within two years.

“I want to be friends to China,” he told an audience of businesspeople in Tokyo. “I do not need the arms. I do not want missiles established in my country. I do not need to have the airports to host the bombers.”

He was referring to visiting U.S. troops, whose presence in five Philippine military camps was established under a security deal signed under Duterte’s predecessor as a counterbalance to China’s growing military assertiveness in the region.

Since taking office at the end of June, Duterte has reached out to Beijing while criticizing U.S. foreign policy. His approach has caused consternation in both the U.S. and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to ask Duterte about his foreign policy when they meet later Wednesday.

In his speech, the Philippine leader departed at the end of his prepared remarks on economic development and investment to address the topic that he said he knows is “what is in everybody’s mind.”

He said he is pursuing an independent foreign policy, and that he wants foreign troops to leave, maybe in the next two years. “I want them out,” he said.

“I may have ruffled the feelings of some but that is how it is,” he said. “We will survive, without the assistance of America, maybe a lesser quality of life, but as I said, we will survive.”

Duterte is on a three-day visit to Japan. After meeting Abe, he is attending a banquet hosted by the Japanese leader. On Thursday, he is set to meet Emperor Akihito.

Pakistan arrests National Geographic’s ‘Afghan girl’ Sharbat Gula

Sharbat Gula in the women's jail of Peshawar.
Sharbat Gula in the women’s jail of Peshawar.

An Afghan girl with haunting green eyes whose portrait on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 became one of the world’s most recognizable photographs has been arrested in Pakistan on charges of possessing forged identity papers, officials say.

Sharbat Gula, whose iconic image by photographer Steve McCurry earned her the title of “Mona Lisa of the Afghan war”, was taken into custody from her home in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar with two men, said to be her sons, police official Tahir Khan said.

An official of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a department that deals with forgery cases, confirmed the arrest.

“Our team together with police raided her house and recovered both Pakistani and Afghan IDs,” said FIA director Imran Shahid.

Sharbat Gula - then and now
Sharbat Gula – then and now

Now in her 40s, Sharbat Gula — also known as Sharbat Bibi — was arrested in Peshawar on Tuesday for falsifying documents and staying illegally in Pakistan, officials said.

An official of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) said she could face seven to 14 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 or be deported if convicted by court of fraud.

Omar Zakhilwal
Omar Zakhilwal

The top Afghan envoy in Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, who has been pursuing the case of 46-year-old Sharbat Gula with Pakistani officials, said a court in Peshawar will hear case on November 1, “in which we expect Sharbat Gula to be released”.

He said in a post on his official Facebook page that an Afghan legal team had taken up Sharbat Gula’s case with legal departments. He also took up her case with Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz.

peshawarThe arrest in Peshawar of Sharbat Gula, one of the world’s most recognized and famous and Afghanistan’s most beloved image, has deeply saddened all Afghans without exception and has hurt their emotions,” Zakhilwal wrote in his post.

The action was a “complete contradiction” of the Pakistan government’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” in Afghanistan, he added.

Zakhilwal also dismissed the charges leveled against Sharbat Gula, saying the Pakistani identity card she had “was not fake and neither was it obtained fraudulently”. He added there were more than 500,000 Afghan refugees who had been issued Pakistani IDs and the interior ministry was “very well aware” of this.

“In light of the implications Sharbat Gula’s arrest as well as release can have for Pak-Afghan people-to-people relations and also the legal weaknesses with the case on which she is charged, I requested Mr Sartaj Aziz that the Pakistan federal government issues a directive to release Sharbat Gula immediately. Mr Sartaj Aziz gave me his assurances for which I am grateful,” Zakhilwal said.

He pointed out a deadline set by Pakistan for Afghan refugees to return these ID cards was November 15, which was more than two weeks away.

If Sharbat Gula is released, the Afghan government will facilitate her family’s immediate repatriation and support her to resettle in her own country, Zakhilwal said. The envoy said Sharbat Gula’s husband and eldest daughter had died and she had sold her house just before her arrest.

Soviet army invades Afghanistan
Soviet army invades Afghanistan

Gula’s family fled to Pakistan with thousands of Afghan families when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Some obtained identity papers in a bid to stay on in Pakistan. Some three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, especially in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the semi-autonomous tribal areas.

ng_afghangirlIn 1984, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry took the haunting image of Sharbat Gula, then aged about 12, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar. The photo, which became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history, was likened to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

The photograph appeared on the National Geographic cover in June 1985, and was widely used to publicize the plight of refugees.

Last year Pakistan’s government began a crackdown on Afghan refugees who allegedly used forged documents to obtain Pakistani nationality. That’s when Gula’s name surfaced.

“It is a sign of the times in Pakistan, that it has now reached someone who was something of a celebrity in the ’80s, someone more high profile than the average,” said Nicholas Bishop, project development officer for the IOM in Afghanistan.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which assists undocumented migrants, says the arrest — although legal if the ID card is proven to be false — is symptomatic of the mounting pressure on Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return home.

Pakistan has said that it plans to send all of the estimated 2.5 million refugees back to Afghanistan as they have become an “unbearable” burden on the economy.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveils its 1st ‘suicide’ drone

Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone
Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone

On Wednesday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveiled a drone that was built for combat targets and to execute suicide missions. The Iranians have reported that the tiny aircraft can fly a distance of 1,000 km for four straight hours. 

According to reports out of Iran, the “suicide” drone is equipped with advanced military-grade cameras that enable day-time and night-time espionage missions. It should be able to fly from a height of half a meter to 914 meters, allowing the drone to hit any target on land or at sea.

Furthermore, the Iranian drone can fly at a maximum speed of 250 km per hour and is also able to land on water. Although missiles cannot be loaded onto the drone, it can be filled with a large amount of explosives in order to carry out suicide missions.

Demolition of Calais ‘Jungle’ camp under way

Boarding busses in Calais
Boarding busses in Calais

The dismantling of the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais has began as its inhabitants leave by bus for other parts of France.

A group of workers started to demolish unoccupied tents and shacks by hand, according to reporters at the scene.

About 2,000 migrants left voluntarily on Monday, and hundreds more have followed in the days following.

The Jungle has become a key symbol of Europe’s migration crisis, housing some 7,000 residents in squalid conditions.

calais-migrant-camp-the-jungleThe operation to close the camp has been largely peaceful, but concerns remain that some migrants will refuse to give up their attempts to cross the Channel to the UK.

The French authorities said they were prioritizing departures on Tuesday morning, but crews in hard hats and orange jumpsuits started demolition shortly after 1500 local time.
Crews began to pull down wooden frames and tarpaulins
Crews began to pull down wooden frames and tarpaulins

They tore down wooden shacks with sledgehammers and used diggers to move away debris.

The demolition is expected to be done mostly by hand – and in a low-key manner – as officials believe sending in bulldozers at this point would send the wrong message to migrants they want to convince to get on buses voluntarily.

The Calais police commissioner says the camp will be fully cleared by Friday and that only about 200 people are expected to try to stay.

There are warnings that those determined to stay will set up camp in the surrounding countryside while the demolition takes place before returning to the area.

Children are the only group allowed to stay in Calais. They will be housed in the camp’s converted shipping containers while the rest of the Jungle is dismantled.

Almost 200 children from the camp have been brought to the UK, some of them under the “Dubs” amendment to the Immigration Act, according to UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The amendment allows particularly vulnerable children – such as girls and those under 13 – refuge in the UK, even if they do not have family already in the country.

Dismantling the Jungle

At times the migrants have jostled with police as they wait to board buses.
At times the migrants have jostled with police as they wait to board buses.

than 1,200 police were deployed for the clearance operation.

The French interior ministry said officers “might be forced to intervene” if there was unrest during the demolition.

In a statement (in French), French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 2,318 migrants had been “given shelter” on Monday.

A total of 1,918 adults had been taken away on 45 buses to 80 reception centers, while 400 minors were transferred to “provisional reception centers” within the camp.

The first day had taken place in a “calm and controlled manner”, he said.

Once the migrants have been transferred to different parts of France, they will be given the opportunity to claim asylum, or face deportation.

where-asylum-applications-have-been-made-in-2016Last year more than one million migrants – many fleeing the civil war in Syria – arrived in Europe. Countries struggled to cope and division arose in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.

An EU-Turkey pact to try to stop migrants crossing to Greece and moves by Balkan nations to close their borders have driven down the number of people using the so-called eastern Mediterranean route.

However, migrants from African countries such as Eritrea and Somalia as well as West African nations such as Nigeria and the Gambia are continuing to attempt the crossing from Libya to Italy.

CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia

Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election
Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

CIA Headquarters
CIA Headquarters

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.

Sean Kanuck
Sean Kanuck

Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.

“If you publicly accuse someone,” he said, “and don’t follow it up with a responsive action, that may weaken the credible threat of your response capability.”

President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed.

Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.

“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”

A second former officer, who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, said he was asked several times in recent years to work on covert action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin is almost beyond embarrassing, he said, and anything the U.S. can do against, for example, Russian bank accounts, the Russian can do in response.

“Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?” he asked.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell expressed skepticism that the U.S. would go so far as to attack Russian networks.

“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”

The Obama administration is debating just that question, officials say — whether to respond to Russia via cyber means, or with traditional measures such as sanctions.

The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, documents indicate. According to officials, the team has a staff of hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions, they say.

The covert action plan is designed to protect the U.S. election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote, officials say. Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line, officials say.

While the National Security Agency is the center for American digital spying, the CIA is the lead agency for covert action and has its own cyber capabilities. It sometimes brings in the NSA and the Pentagon to help, officials say.

Retired Gen. Mike Hayden
Retired Gen. Mike Hayden

, who ran the CIA after leading the NSA, wrote this year: “We even had our own cyber force, the Information Operations Center (IOC), that former CIA director George Tenet launched and which had grown steadily under the next spy chief, Porter Goss, and me. The CIA didn’t try to replicate or try to compete with NSA… the IOC was a lot like Marine Corps aviation while NSA was an awful lot like America’s Air Force.”

“I would quote a Russian proverb,” said Adm. Stavridis, “which is, ‘Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed. When you hit steel withdraw.’ I think unless we stand up to this kind of cyber attack from Russia, we’ll only see more and more of it in the future.”

Bomb in Thailand’s south kills one, injures 19

A night market in Thailand
A night market in Thailand

At least one person was killed and 19 wounded in an explosion at a night market in southern Thailand on Monday where Muslim separatists have been waging an insurgency for more than a decade.

The attack comes two months after a wave of coordinated bombings in tourist towns in Thailand’s south that killed four Thais and wounded dozens, including foreigners, attacks the police linked to Muslim militants.

Monday’s attack, in the town of Pattani, struck around 7pm , police said.

The bomb that ripped through a night market in Pattani left the market in twisted ruins.
The bomb that ripped through a night market in Pattani left the market in twisted ruins.

“The bomb was placed near a noodle stall and the explosion killed one woman. We are currently investigating and securing the site,” Pakpoom Jantarangsee, a police officer investigating, told Reuters.

More than 6500 people have been killed in the insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces – Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat – over the past 12 years.

An injured child is brought through a hospital after a bombing in the southern Thai province of Pattani.
An injured child is brought through a hospital after a bombing in the southern Thai province of Pattani.

The region borders Malaysia and is Muslim-majority while the rest of Thailand is predominantly Buddhist.

Talks with insurgent groups began under the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2013 but have stalled since a military coup in May 2014.

Talks hosted by Malaysia in September failed to reach any breakthrough. Insurgents there denied responsibility for the tourist resort attacks in August.

Thailand has proposed building a wall along the 640-km border to stop insurgents using Malaysia as a base to plan operations and hide out between attacks.

Al Shabaab launch three attacks in Kenya and Somalia

somalia-kenya-mapSomalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group rammed a military base with a suicide truck bomb, shot dead an intelligence officer and killed 12 people in a Kenyan border town in a series of strikes over 24 hours, the militants said on Tuesday.

The group, which once ruled much of Somalia, wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and drive out African AMISOM peacekeepers made up of soldiers from Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia and other African nations.

The attacks mark the build up to elections in coming weeks for the Somali parliament, which will in turn pick a new president to continue slow reconstruction efforts in a nation racked by more than two decades of conflict.

Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab said the group was behind a truck bomb that rammed into an AMISOM base in the Somali town of Beledweyne, north of Mogadishu. He said 17 soldiers from Djibouti were killed in the attack.

There was no immediate comment from AMISOM and police said they did not have access to the base to offer any figures. Al Shabaab’s numbers are often much larger than officials figures.

Al Shabaab’s usual tactic is to ram the entrance to a target site so that its fighters can storm inside, but a police officer in Beledweyne said no such assault took place on Tuesday.

AMISOM has been battling the rebels in support of the Somali government.

The al Shabaab spokesman also said the group shot senior intelligence officer Colonel Abdiasis Araye as he walked to a mosque late on Monday in Mogadishu.

He also said al Shabaab was behind Tuesday’s early morning attack on a hotel in Kenya’s northeastern Mandera town, killing at least 12 people according to police and 15 people according to al Shabaab’s account.

Al Shabaab has often launched attacks in neighbouring Kenya and says it will continue until Kenyan forces have withdrawn.

Kenya’s government has repeatedly said it would not be forced out of Somalia by al Shabaab, saying it sees the mission as a matter of national security.