GCC defense ministers discuss cooperation, stress keenness on Bahrain’s stability

Yemeni president urge Obama to intervene at EU to convince European countries to reconsider resolution suspending flights from Yemen

Saleh: Yemenis won’t allow any interference in their affairs

Yemen capable of fighting terrorism through cooperation with world countries

Difficulties facing U.S. pullout from Afghanistan

Obama in Jakarta: Terrorists have distorted the image of great Islam

The GCC joint defense council renewed support to Bahrain in the face of any threats targeting its security, safety and stability pursuant to the principles of collective defense and common target and destiny.

The session, chaired by Kuwait's First Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, praised the wise policy adopted the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain under King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Kalifa in tackling the numerous challenges, according to the final statement of the session.

The ministers reviewed the threats and challenges facing the six GCC member states under the new developments with emphasis on the resent regrettable instability in Bahrain, it said.

GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman Al-Atiyyah reported to the ministers on the progress of joint defense and the new procedures and plans adopted since the eighth session in the domain of joint military projects.

The ministers probed the headway made by the Peninsula Shield Force in the fields of upgrading its combat efficacy and the levels of preparedness and joint training programs, the statement said.

After mulling the progress of the joint defense strategy adopted by the 30th GCC Summit in 2009, the ministers reaffirmed commitment to the common vision of the GCC leaders for realizing the targets of regional military integration and collective security.

They reached agreement on a range of recommendations which will be tabled to the coming GCC summit, due in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), next month, the statement pointed out.

The ministers expressed gratitude to His Highness the Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for his constant support to process of joint defense and to Sheikh Jaber for the efforts he made to ensure the success of the ninth session.

They thanked UAE Minister of Economy Sultan Bin Saeed Al-Mansuri for inviting them, on behalf of UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum to hold the tenth session of the joint defense council in the UAE next year.

First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said it was important that Arab Gulf countries join military efforts to confront "dangerous and possible" security and military challenges threatening the social fabric of the Gulf, as well as to address terrorist threats.

Addressing a meeting of Defense Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Sheikh Jaber said security and military challenges facing the six Arab Gulf countries required "continuous vigilance" and to continue to work via a uniform military strategy.

Sheikh Jaber said the terrorist and sabotage acts in the region coupled with military confrontations in neighboring and nearby countries, and the unstable conditions "in the strategic surrounding of the Gulf countries" required enhancement of "our collective regimes and to develop them to honor our supreme strategic objectives in a drive to guarantee security, stability and prosperity of the Gulf countries." The Kuwaiti Defense Minister called on his fellow Ministers to exert efforts to protect the social security of the region.

He invited GCC countries to send symbolic military units of the ones that participated in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait, to take part in the next February's celebrations that will mark the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait.

GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman Al-Atiyyah said the Defense Ministers have approved the social security of servicemen in GCC countries, and have referred the issue to their leaders.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Al-Atiyyah said the Peninsula Shield Force were receiving overwhelming support from the armed forces in the GCC member states -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The outcome of the Defense Ministers' meeting will be referred to the GCC summit that will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, early next month, he said.

He said the Defense Ministers discussed the military coordination and cooperation.

Ministers of defense of Gulf Cooperation Council's countries concluded the 9th meeting of the joint defense council.

The Saudi delegation to the meeting was led by Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General.

During the meeting, issues concerning GCC cooperation in the field of defense were discussed by member of the council.

The members stressed the importance of applying the defense strategy of the GCC countries.

They expressed satisfaction for progress of GCC military cooperation and joint defense.

They made a number of recommendations to the GCC Supreme Council and took a number of decisions to apply the defense and security aspect of the Bahraini vision and boost joint cooperation.

Saudi ambassador to Kuwait Dr. Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al-Fayez gave a dinner part in honor of Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, who is currently on an official visit to Kuwait to lead Saudi Arabia's delegation to the 9th GCC Joint Defense Council meeting.

The banquet was attended by Prince Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz; Prince Saud bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz; General Ali bin Saleh Al-Mohayya, Chief of General Staff; and the accompanying delegation.

Prince Abdulrahman Ibn Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector-General left Kuwait after heading the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the 9th meeting of Joint Defense Council of the Ministers of Defense of The Cooperation Council for The Arab States of The Gulf (GCC).

The Prince was seen off by Saudi Ambassador to Kuwait Dr. Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al-Fayez, and Saudi Chief of General Staff General Ali bin Saleh Al-Mohayya.

Prince Abdulrahman was accompanied by a number of princes.

Meanwhile, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh asked for US President Obama to intervene to convince the European Union to reconsider the resolution to suspend flights from Yemen.

In a phone call with President Obama, President Saleh said that the decision by European countries to suspend flights from Yemen is considered as a collective punishment of Yemeni people which achieves terrorist objectives and negatively influences Yemeni efforts in the fight against terrorism. He confirmed that Yemeni airports have taken strict measures against terrorists as well as seized them and brought them to justice.

He said that terrorism is an international disaster that could be found in all over the world.

“International efforts should be exerted in this field to destroy the roots of terrorism,” said Saleh, stressing that Yemen will remain an active partner of the international community in combating terrorism.

President Obama, in turn, renewed US positive of support for Yemen’s stability, unity, development, and efforts in combating terrorism. Obama, furthermore, said that US administration appreciated Yemeni efforts in combating terrorism pointing out the US intention to keep supporting Yemen in all fields. He added that he is personally committed to the elimination of al-Qaeda and to stand by Yemen and make it a more prosperous nation.

Yemen reaffirmed that it definitely rejects the interference in its internal affairs by any party. "We, in Yemen, have listened to the statements of Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucheher Mottaki on Yemen", an official source in Foreign Ministry said.

"We welcome what Mottaki affirmed about Iran's position towards Yemen's unity and stability, and Yemen reaffirms that it definitely rejects the interference in its internal affairs by any party", the source added.

Speaking to Saba, the source confirmed that what is happening in Saada province is an internal Yemeni affair and Yemen can solve its issues without any interference from others.

The state has no any position against Shiite group and the war with the terrorist elements in Saada province is not based on religious base and those elements are a rebel and outlaw group which seeks to destabilize security and stability in Yemen and the region, the source added.

The source praised the brotherly countries' supportive position to Yemen's unity, security and stability, topped by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and GCC countries.

Yemen wants far more military aid than the U.S. has promised in the fight against escalating terrorism — billions of dollars more than Washington has in mind.

And yet Yemeni authorities have little to show for the significant Western aid that has already poured into the impoverished country.

In fact, the al-Qaeda offshoot that claimed responsibility for the failed plot to send mail bombs from Yemen to the U.S. appears more emboldened than ever. And Yemen's government seems to feel more threatened by an increasingly restless secessionist rebellion in the south, where it has little control, than by militants linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Since the Oct. 28 discovery of the two mail bombs, U.S. officials are pressing Yemen for more and faster cooperation on intelligence-sharing and more opportunities to train Yemeni counterterrorism teams. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and the government's authority is weak in areas outside the capital of Sana’a.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said over the weekend that the U.S. could do more to help train Yemeni forces to combat terrorists. U.S. officials told The Associated Press last week that military aid to Yemen would double to $250 million in 2011 — underscoring the growing realization of the threat al-Qaeda poses to the fragile state.

President Barack Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh last week to say the aid is part of a broader, more comprehensive strategy to promote security as well as economic and political development.

But Hesham Sharaf, a Yemeni deputy minister, said the proposed U.S. assistance is "nothing" compared to what Yemen needs. Government officials are talking about a two-year program to develop the armed forces that would cost around $6 billion, he said.

Yemen says it needs to develop its coast guard and acquire more than a dozen combat helicopters, satellites and equipment such as night-vision goggles and spyware.

"Technology like satellites should be in Yemen's hands, not images handed down to us," Sharaf said. "We must have special Yemeni forces trained to use combat helicopters, not Americans. If they (Americans) go on the ground, people will criticize us and say we are weak."

As part of its aid, the U.S. provides equipment and training to Yemeni forces. But there are ongoing U.S. concerns that Yemen could use the equipment and those forces against Shiite rebels who have fought government forces intermittently for years in the north or a separate front against secessionists in the south.

Many critics inside Yemen say the aid is going to fight government opponents, particularly the southern secessionists, and that Yemen is simply milking the West for money to carry out an agenda that doesn't necessarily make fighting al-Qaeda its top priority.

Soon after the mail bombs were detected, other government officials echoed Sharaf's call for more equipment and assistance to fight al-Qaeda.

The failed attacks exposed the government's lack of success against al-Qaeda and its growing threat to the regime and showed that the group was using Yemen as a base to plot international attacks.

Yemen is clearly expected to show how it is using the aid it has been given. In addition to asking for more intelligence cooperation, a U.S. official said Washington also wants to have access to prisoners allegedly from al-Qaeda.

Much Western aid has poured into Yemen's security and military agencies in the 10 years since al-Qaeda bombers steered an explosives-laden boat into the Navy destroyer USS Cole that was refueling at a Yemeni port, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

In the past five years, U.S. military assistance to Yemen has totaled about $250 million. That covered programs to train and equip Yemeni forces to combat al-Qaeda, as well as buy boats and other equipment for the airport and seaports. It also paid for training senior officers in Yemen and in the U.S.

About 50 elite U.S. military experts are in the country training Yemeni counterterrorism forces — a number that has doubled in the past year.

At least four new security branches to combat terrorism as well as a new anti-terrorism administration in the air force were created, with much Western financing and technical support.

Many in Yemen say Western assistance is going to train new forces — many of which are commanded by Saleh's eldest son and other relatives — instead of supporting older troops battered by other wars.

A Yemeni coast guard service was founded soon after the USS Cole attack with U.S. aid. A special forces unit and the National Security Agency were formed around the same time to supplement the work of the intelligence services.

An anti-terrorism unit under the Interior Ministry was also added, and a similar anti-terrorism administration was created under the air force.

Although the U.S. trains Yemeni special forces, Yemen frequently sends part of its regular armed forces — estimated to number about a half-million — to hunt al-Qaeda militants in the south. And the new U.S. demand for more intelligence-sharing and access to prisoners is viewed in Yemen as a move by the U.S. to increase its oversight of how U.S. military assistance is being used.

The presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown in Yemen and has become increasingly emboldened, directing attacks overseas and inside the country against security officials and foreigners.

Last month's mail bombs traveled from Yemen on several flights before they were discovered in airports in England and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. They did not explode, but investigators said they could have.

U.S. intelligence has linked U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed hiding in southern Yemen, to last year's failed Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner.

He also had ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers and to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November 2009 at the military base in Fort Hood, Texas. Yemeni officials have said al-Awlaki may have given his blessing for the mail bomb plot.

Al-Qaeda elements have increasingly taken refuge in the south, where there is little government control.

Government critics suspect the troops used against al-Qaeda-linked militants in the south are aimed mainly at weakening the secessionist movement.

A security official said the government doesn't have a clear strategy against al-Qaeda. Many of the raids on alleged al-Qaeda hideouts yield no specific or strategic arrests or killings but end with large deployment of troops in southern opposition strongholds, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

A Shiite rebellion in northern Yemen on the border with Saudi Arabia has also been simmering for about six years, with intermittent fighting. A year ago, Yemeni forces fought a flare-up in the north, which was put down only with the help of Saudi forces.

A fragile cease-fire is holding with the northern rebels, but the fighting has left the army battered, and much of that territory is outside government control.

On the other hand, the White House has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Obama's pledge that he'd begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July, administration and military officials have said.

The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014. That's the date Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security, three senior officials said, along with others speaking anonymously as a matter of policy.

The Pentagon has decided not to announce specific dates for handing security responsibility for several Afghan provinces to local officials and instead intends to work out a more vague definition of transition when it meets with its NATO allies.

What a year ago had been touted as an extensive December review of the strategy will be less expansive and will offer no major changes, the officials said. So far, the U.S. Central Command, the military division that oversees Afghanistan operations, hasn't submitted any kind of withdrawal order for forces for the July deadline, two of those officials said.

The shift has begun privately and is being implemented in part because U.S. officials realized that conditions in Afghanistan were unlikely to allow a speedy withdrawal.

"During our assessments, we looked at if we continue to move forward at this pace, how long before we can fully transition to the Afghans? And we found that we cannot fully transition to the Afghans by July 2011," said one senior administration official. "So we felt we couldn't focus on July 2011 but the period it will take to make the full transition."

Another official said the administration realized in contacts with Pakistani officials that the Pakistanis had concluded wrongly that July would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

That perception, one Pentagon adviser said, has persuaded Pakistan's military -- which is key to preventing Taliban sympathizers from infiltrating Afghanistan -- to continue to press for a political settlement instead of military action.

"This administration now understands that it cannot shift Pakistani approaches to safeguarding its interests in Afghanistan with this date being perceived as a walk-away date," the adviser said.

Last week's midterm elections have eased pressure on the Obama administration to begin an early withdrawal. Earlier this year, some Democrats in Congress pressed to cut off funding for Afghanistan operations. With Republicans in control of the House beginning in January, however, there will be less push for a drawdown. The incoming House Armed Services chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said last week that he opposed setting the date.

A White House official who spoke with reporters in a conference call arranged to discuss the December review said the administration might withdraw some troops in July and hand some communities over to Afghan authorities. But he said a withdrawal from Afghanistan could take "years," depending on the capability of the Afghan national security forces.

Meanwhile, the United States is open to the idea of keeping troops in Iraq past a deadline to leave next year if Iraq asks for it, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

"We'll stand by," Gates said. "We're ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us."

Gates urged Iraq's squabbling political groups to reconcile after eight months of deadlock. Any request to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq would have to come from a functioning Iraqi government. It would amend the current agreement under which U.S. troops must leave by the end of 2011.

"That initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis; we are open to discussing it," Gates said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said for months that they expect Iraqi leaders eventually to ask for an extension of the military agreement with the United States, but the political impasse has put the idea on hold.

A spike in violence in Iraq over the past two weeks has underscored the continued potency of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

"We have been pretty clear to the Iraqis that what we seek, and hope they will come together on, is an inclusive government that represents all of the major elements of Iraqi society and in a nonsectarian way," Gates said. "It is our hope that that is the direction they are moving in."

Meanwhile, Barack Obama acknowledged that US relations with the Islamic world remain strained as he once more attempted to reach out to Muslims in a highly personal speech in Indonesia yesterday.

Returning to the country where he lived for four years as a child, President Obama urged all sides to look beyond “suspicion and mistrust” to “forge common ground” in the fight against terrorism. He delighted the crowd by sharing memories of his childhood in Jakarta, and said “Indonesia is part of me” in the local tongue.

The speech was the president’s latest attempt to repair US relations with the Islamic world, severely strained by the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent “war on terror”. Speaking in Cairo last year he had promised a “new beginning” in relations, but in yesterday’s address at the University of Indonesia he acknowledged there was still much work to do.

Addressing an audience of 6,000, including former classmates, he said: “In the 17 months that have passed since that speech we have made some progress, but we have much more to do.

No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust.” He added: “I have made it clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam . . . Those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy.”

President Obama praised the world’s most populous Muslim country for standing its ground against “violent extremism”, and urged others to play their part. “All of us must defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion,” he said. “This is not a task for America alone.”

Despite recent setbacks in attempts to steer Israelis and Palestinians towards a two-state solution – a long-standing source of grievance for the Muslim world – President Obama insisted that the US would “spare no effort” in achieving peace in the Middle East.

US relations with the Muslim world accounted for less than half the speech, the centerpiece of his whirlwind visit. Much of it was devoted to urging Indonesia to see the US as a beneficial economic partner, in a thinly veiled rebuff to China’s increasing overtures to one of southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies and newest democracies.

“America has a stake in an Indonesia that is growing, with prosperity that is broadly shared among the Indonesian people because a rising middle class here (in Indonesia) means new markets for our goods, just as America is a market for yours,” he said.

President Obama, who moved to Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather when he was six, reminisced about living in a small house with a mango tree out front and learning to love his adopted home while flying kites, running along paddy fields, catching dragonflies and buying Indonesian street food. He also spoke of running in fields with water buffalo and goats, and of the birth of his sister, Maya, who is half-Indonesian. The president told the audience he is a Christian, a point he has been forced to emphasize amid erroneous perceptions in the US that he is Muslim.

At a press conference alongside Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he announced a deal that will have both countries co-operating on energy, education, the environment and many other areas. This follows China’s announcement earlier this week that it was investing $6.6 billion (€4.8 billion) in infrastructure in Indonesia.