The head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, told the House Committee on Armed Services in June 2013, according to recently declassified testimony, that Benghazi was immediately considered an attack.
A Senate intelligence committee report released Wednesday places the blame on State Department and intelligence agencies for the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
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Benghazi attack: New report shows the real scandal isn’t what Obama called it
By Ryan Teague Beckwith,
The fight over Benghazi isn’t going away, but the reason for the fight may be changing.
In the days after the deadly attack on a U.S. mission in Libya, the political fight centered on whether President Obama had called it terrorism and whether it was a planned or spontaneous attack.
A new bipartisan Senate report released Wednesday, however, focuses more on the failure of the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies for not preventing the attack.
The report shows several major problems:
• The State Department did not increase security at its sites despite warnings of possible violence.
• The CIA did not share information about the existence of its outpost with the U.S. military.
• The CIA and the State Department were not working out of the same location.
• Libyans charged with protecting the compound did not do their job.
The report doesn’t touch on the more political aspects of the 2012 attack, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and two others. But six Republican senators added a separate note to the report criticizing the Obama administration for delaying the report and for not being transparent.
“Information has been withheld from the Committee because of the ‘ongoing criminal investigation’ into the attacks, in an apparent effort to shield certain government agencies from congressional oversight or potential embarrassment,” they wrote.
But the fact that their criticisms come up as an addendum to the report instead of in the report itself shows the controversy about what happened at Benghazi is shifting in D.C.
Pentagon labeled Benghazi a terrorist attack as Obama administration wavered: newly declassified testimony
Gen. Carter Ham’s newly declassified testimony before the House suggests the prospect of an out-of-control demonstration was not raised by Defense officials and that they immediately considered the incident an attack.
By Leslie Larson
The Obama administration was wary to label the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as an act of terrorism but declassified testimony from a top Pentagon official indicates there was little ambiguity among Defense Department players that terrorism was the likely motive.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice represented the Obama administration in discussing the incident in the aftermath of the attack, suggesting the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens and three Americans came as the result of a protest over an incendiary viral video blasting the prophet Mohammad and was not a preplanned act of terrorism.
Rice appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” CNN’s “State of the Union,” NBC’s “Meet The Press,” “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week” on Sep. 16, 2012, to speak on behalf of the President and she repeated the belief that the incident was a “spontaneous” mob uprising and not “a preplanned, premeditated attack.”
“This is not an expression of hostility in the broadest sense toward the United States or to U.S. policy,” she stated.
Republicans pounced on Rice’s analysis, claiming she was placating extremists and not adequately representing the national security threat to the American people.
Now testimony by Gen. Carter Ham, head of AFRICOM at the time of attack, before the House Committee on Armed Services in June 2013 suggests that Defense officials did not raise the prospect of an out-of-control demonstration and immediately deemed the incident an attack.
Ham, whose partially redacted transcript was declassified by the House on Monday, said at the 2013 hearing that he was alerted to the incident 15 minutes after it erupted at 9:42 p.m. Libya Time (3:42 p.m. EST) on Sep. 11, 2012.
“When we saw a rocket-propelled grenade attack, what appeared to be pretty well aimed small arms fire — again, this is all coming second and third hand through unclassified, you know, commercial cellphones for the most part initially. To me, it started to become clear pretty quickly that this was certainly a terrorist attack and not just not something sporadic,” he stated.
Ham served as head of the United States Africa Command, which manages U.S. military operations in Africa. He served in that capacity from March 2011 to April 2013.
He describes how as soon as AFRICOM learned of the attack, the command control repositioned a drone to the consulate to gather intelligence on the ground movements. The unmanned, unarmed surveillance aircraft was ordered to be diverted to the Benghazi site at 9:59 p.m. Libya Time, 17 minutes after the attack.
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According to the timeline, at 10:32 p.m. Libya Time, Ham briefed then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before they traveled to the White House for a pre-scheduled meeting with Obama, during which they briefed Obama on the situation.
During Ham’s briefing with Panetta and Dempsey, before they left for the White House, he said there was a “peripheral” discussion as to the cause but added, “We knew at that initial meeting, we knew that a U.S. facility had been attacked and was under attack.”
“I am not aware of (a demonstration), sir. It became pretty apparent to me, and I think to most at Africa Command pretty shortly after this attack began, that this was an attack,” he told Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“We knew at that point that we had two individuals, Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith (a Foreign Service information officer), unaccounted for. And so the focus of our effort at that point was gaining understanding of what the situation was. And then we started very quickly to think about, you know, the possibility of a U.S. ambassador being held hostage in a foreign land and what does that mean,” Ham said during his House testimony.
The testimony includes a reference to an Ops Alert announcing the attack that was received in the White House Situation Room at 10:05 p.m. Libya time, but Ham was not privy to what details the alert included.
Panetta’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February similarly stated the early belief that the episode was an attack.
“There was no question in my mind that this was a terrorist attack,” Panetta said of his early assessment of the situation on the ground in Benghazi.
Ham’s version of events could discredit the accounts from some Obama officials who were hesitant to state the security threat posed by the attack.
In particular, Rice has been accused of misleading the American public with her statements that the incident was a protest run amok rather than terrorism.
In May 2013, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also implicated in an ABC News report that claimed a State Department official urged the CIA and White House to avoid describing the event as an act of terrorism in public statements.
Susan Rice went on TV talk shows days after the Benghazi attack to speak on behalf of the President. She repeated the belief that the incident was a ‘spontaneous’ mob uprising and not ‘a preplanned, premeditated attack.’
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Leaked emails show that then State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that a CIA memo on Benghazi not include any reference of links to al-Qaeda and the intelligence warnings in the months preceding the attack.
Nuland wrote in protest to the CIA description, saying it “could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up on the State Department for not paying attention to warnings,” in an email to the White House and the CIA, according to ABC.
The intelligence memo was the basis for Rice’s public statements in September 2012.
The PR spin to describe the attack as spontaneous rather than pre-planned was seen as a move to protect the State Department from being blamed for not adequately providing security and anticipating the attack.
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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied any wrongdoing in Rice’s description of the episode, telling the press in May that Rice didn’t have “hard, concrete evidence” to suggest terrorism.
“It was simply a reflection of we did not, and the intelligence community did not, and others within the administration did not, jump to conclusions about who was responsible before we had an investigation to find out the facts,” he said of Rice’s highly criticized assessment of the situation.
Her behavior in the aftermath of the tragedy displeased Congress and is largely to blame for her failure to be appointed Secretary of State after Clinton’s retirement in Obama’s second term.
Instead, Rice was appointed to the role of National Security adviser.
Clinton has defended Rice and said the root motive for the attack was not an important detail to focus on.
“We had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night and decided to go kill some Americans? At this point what difference does it make, Senator?” Clinton said at a tense Senate hearing in January 2013.
Clinton, a likely contender in the 2016 White House bid, remains defensive as the “Benghazi stain” continues to haunt her legacy.
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Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.
By C. J. CHIVERS and ERIC SCHMITT
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night.
Syrian opposition figures and some American lawmakers and officials have argued that Russian and Iranian arms shipments to support Mr. Assad’s government have made arming the rebels more necessary.
Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries.
The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it might monitor shipments as they move by land into Syria, officials said. The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.
“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.
“The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.
Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.
These multiple logistics streams throughout the winter formed what one former American official who was briefed on the program called “a cataract of weaponry.”
American officials, rebel commanders and a Turkish opposition politician have described the Arab roles as an open secret, but have also said the program is freighted with risk, including the possibility of drawing Turkey or Jordan actively into the war and of provoking military action by Iran.
Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt.
“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.
He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said.
Two other commanders, Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham and Abu Ayman of Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group, said that whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job.
“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Mr. Aboud said.
The former American official noted that the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions are voluminous.
“People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge,” he said. “But they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”
A Tentative Start
The airlift to Syrian rebels began slowly. On Jan. 3, 2012, months after the crackdown by the Alawite-led government against antigovernment demonstrators had morphed into a military campaign, a pair of Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130 transport aircraft touched down in Istanbul, according to air traffic data.
They were a vanguard.
Weeks later, the Syrian Army besieged Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Artillery and tanks pounded neighborhoods. Ground forces moved in.
Across the country, the army and loyalist militias were trying to stamp out the rebellion with force — further infuriating Syria’s Sunni Arab majority, which was severely outgunned. The rebels called for international help, and more weapons.
By late midspring the first stream of cargo flights from an Arab state began, according to air traffic data and information from plane spotters.
On a string of nights from April 26 through May 4, a Qatari Air Force C-17 — a huge American-made cargo plane — made six landings in Turkey, at Esenboga Airport. By Aug. 8 the Qataris had made 14 more cargo flights. All came from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a hub for American military logistics in the Middle East.
Qatar has denied providing any arms to the rebels. A Qatari official, who requested anonymity, said Qatar has shipped in only what he called nonlethal aid. He declined to answer further questions. It is not clear whether Qatar has purchased and supplied the arms alone or is also providing air transportation service for other donors. But American and other Western officials, and rebel commanders, have said Qatar has been an active arms supplier — so much so that the United States became concerned about some of the Islamist groups that Qatar has armed.
The Qatari flights aligned with the tide-turning military campaign by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib, as their campaign of ambushes, roadside bombs and attacks on isolated outposts began driving Mr. Assad’s military and supporting militias from parts of the countryside.
As flights continued into the summer, the rebels also opened an offensive in that city — a battle that soon bogged down.
The former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it. Mr. Petraeus did not return multiple e-mails asking for comment.
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.
American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”
Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.
Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.
“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.
Soon, other players joined the airlift: In November, three Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130s landed in Esenboga, in a hint at what would become a stepped-up Jordanian and Saudi role.
Within three weeks, two other Jordanian cargo planes began making a round-trip run between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where, officials from several countries said, the aircraft were picking up a large Saudi purchase of infantry arms from a Croatian-controlled stockpile.
The first flight returned to Amman on Dec. 15, according to intercepts of a transponder from one of the aircraft recorded by a plane spotter in Cyprus and air traffic control data from an aviation official in the region.
In all, records show that two Jordanian Ilyushins bearing the logo of the Jordanian International Air Cargo firm but flying under Jordanian military call signs made a combined 36 round-trip flights between Amman and Croatia from December through February. The same two planes made five flights between Amman and Turkey this January.
As the Jordanian flights were under way, the Qatari flights continued and the Royal Saudi Air Force began a busy schedule, too — making at least 30 C-130 flights into Esenboga from mid-February to early March this year, according to flight data provided by a regional air traffic control official.
Several of the Saudi flights were spotted coming and going at Ankara by civilians, who alerted opposition politicians in Turkey.
“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the C.H.P. opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”
Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to discuss the flights or any arms transfers. The Turkish government has not officially approved military aid to Syrian rebels.
Croatia and Jordan both denied any role in moving arms to the Syrian rebels. Jordanian aviation officials went so far as to insist that no cargo flights occurred.
The director of cargo for Jordanian International Air Cargo, Muhammad Jubour, insisted on March 7 that his firm had no knowledge of any flights to or from Croatia.
“This is all lies,” he said. “We never did any such thing.”
A regional air traffic official who has been researching the flights confirmed the flight data, and offered an explanation. “Jordanian International Air Cargo,” the official said, “is a front company for Jordan’s air force.”
After being informed of the air-traffic control and transponder data that showed the plane’s routes, Mr. Jubour, from the cargo company, claimed that his firm did not own any Ilyushin cargo planes.
Asked why his employer’s Web site still displayed images of two Ilyushin-76MFs and text claiming they were part of the company fleet, Mr. Jubour had no immediate reply. That night the company’s Web site was taken down.
Reporting was contributed by Robert F. Worth from Washington and Istanbul; Dan Bilefsky from Paris; and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey.
The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Arabic: جماعة الإخوان المسلمين, often simply: الإخوان المسلمون, the Muslim Brotherhood, transliterated: al-ʾIkḫwān al-Muslimūn) is the Arab world’s most influential and one of the largest Islamic movements, and is the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. Founded in Egypt in 1928 as a Pan-Islamic, religious, political, and social movement by the Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, by the end of World War II the Muslim Brotherhood had an estimated two million members. Its ideas had gained supporters throughout the Arab world and influenced other Islamist groups with its “model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work”.
The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for …ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.” The organization seeks to make Muslim countries become Islamic caliphates and to isolate women and non-Muslims from public life. The movement is also known for engaging in political violence. They were responsible for creating Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, who grew to infamy for its suicide bombings of Israelis during the first and second intifada. Muslim brotherhood members are suspected to have assasinated political opponents like Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha.
The Muslim Brotherhood started as a religious social organization; preaching Islam, teaching the illiterate, setting up hospitals and even launching commercial enterprises. As it continued to rise in influence, starting in 1936, it began to oppose British rule in Egypt. Many Egyptian nationalists accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of violent killings during this period. After the Arab defeat in the First Arab-Israeli war, the Egyptian government dissolved the organisation and arrested its members. It supported the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, but after an attempted assassination of Egypt’s president it was once again banned and repressed. The Muslim Brotherhood has been suppressed in other countries as well, most notably in Syria in 1982 during the Hama massacre.
The Muslim Brotherhood is financed by contributions from its members, who are required to allocate a portion of their income to the movement. Some of these contributions are from members who work in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries.
Al-Qaeda (pron.: /ælˈkaɪdə/ al-KY-də; Arabic: القاعدة al-qāʿidah, Arabic: [ælqɑːʕɪdɐ], translation: “The Base” and alternatively spelled al-Qaida and sometimes al-Qa’ida) is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with its origins being traceable to the Soviet War in Afghanistan. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad and a strict interpretation of sharia law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and various other countries (see below). Al-Qaeda has carried out several attacks on non-Muslims, and other targets it considers kafir.
Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries, including the September 11 attacks, 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and the 2002 Bali bombings. The U.S. government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the War on Terror. With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top-down, to actions by franchise associated groups, to actions of lone wolf operators.
Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan, but who have not taken any pledge. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new world-wide Islamic caliphate. Among the beliefs ascribed to Al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of civilians and internecine fighting. Al-Qaeda also opposes man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law.
Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda is intolerant of non-Sunni branches of Islam and denounces them by means of excommunications called “takfir”. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretics and have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura Massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings.
The Alawites, also known as Alawis, Nusayris and Ansaris (ʿAlawīyyah (Arabic: علوية), Nuṣayrī (Arabic: نصيريون), and al-Anṣāriyyah) are a prominent mystical religious group centred in Syria who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam. They were long persecuted for their beliefs by the various rulers of Syria, until Hafez al-Assad took power there in 1970.
Today they represent 12% of the Syrian population and for the past 50 years the political system has been dominated by an elite led by the Alawite Assad family. During the Syrian civil war, this rule has come under significant pressure.
The Alawites take their name from Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin of Muḥammad, who was considered the first Shi’a Imam and the fourth “Rightly Guided Caliph” of Sunni Islam.
Until fairly recently, Alawites were referred to as “Nusairis”, after Abu Shu’ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d. ca 270 h, 863 AD) who is reported to have attended the circles of the last three Imams of the prophet Muhammad’s line. This name is considered offensive, and they refer to themselves as Alawites.[page needed] They have allegedly “generally preferred” to be called Alawites, because of the association of the name with Ali ibn Abi Talib, rather than commemorating Abu Shu’ayb Muhammad Ibn Nusayr. In September 1920 French occupational forces instituted the policy of referring to them by the term Alaouites.
In official sources they are often referred to as Ansaris, as this is how they referred to themselves, according to the Reverend Samuel Lyde, who lived among Alawites in the mid-19th century. Other sources state that “Ansari”, as referring to Alawites, is simply a Western mis-transliteration of “Nosairi”.[page needed]
Alawites are separate from the Alevi religious sect in Turkey, but the terms share similar etymologies, and are often confused by outsiders.
he origin of the Alawites is disputed. The Alawites themselves trace their origins to the followers of the eleventh Imām, Hassan al-’Askarī (d. 873), and his pupil ibn Nuṣayr (d. 868). The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr known as al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo about 969. In 1032 Al-Khaṣībī’s grandson and pupil al-Tabarani moved to Latakia, which was then controlled by the Byzantine Empire. Al-Tabarani became the perfector of the Alawite faith through his numerous writings. He and his pupils converted the rural population of the Syrian Coastal Mountain Range to the Alawite faith.
In the 19th century and early 20th century, some Western scholars believed Alawites to be descended from ancient Middle Eastern peoples such as Canaanites and Hittites.[page needed]
Under the Ottoman Empire
Under the Ottoman Empire they were often ill treated, and they resisted an attempt to convert them to Sunni Islam. The Alawites were traditionally good fighters, revolted against the Ottomans on several occasions, and maintained virtual autonomy in their mountains. In his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence wrote:
“The sect, vital in itself, was clannish in feeling and politics. One Nosairi would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever. Their villages lay in patches down the main hills to the Tripoli gap. They spoke Arabic, but had lived there since the beginning of Greek letters in Syria. Usually they stood aside from affairs, and left the Turkish Government alone in hope of reciprocity.”
On the other hand, throughout the 18th century a number of Alawite notables were engaged as local Ottoman tax farmers (multazim). In the 19th century, some Alawites also supported the Ottomans against the Egyptian occupation (1831–1840), while individual Alawites made careers in the Ottoman army or as Ottoman governors. In the early part of the 20th century, the mainly Sunni notables sat on wealth and dominated politics, while Alawites lived as poor peasants. Alawites were not allowed to testify in court until after World War I.
French Mandate period
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under a French mandate. On December 15, 1918, prominent Alawite leader Saleh al-Ali called for a meeting of Alawite notables in the town of Sheikh Badr, and urged them to revolt and expel the French from Syria. When the French authorities heard of the meeting, they sent a force in order to arrest Saleh al-Ali. Al-Ali and his men ambushed them, and the French forces were defeated and suffered more than 35 casualties. After the initial victory, al-Ali started to organize his Alawite rebels into a disciplined force, with its own general command and military ranks, which resulted in the Syrian Revolt of 1919.
In 1919, Al-Ali retaliated to French attacks against rebel positions by attacking and occupying al-Qadmus, from which the French conducted their military operations against him. In November, General Henri Gouraud mounted a full-fledged campaign against Saleh al-Ali’s forces in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains. They entered al-Ali’s village of al-Shaykh Badr and arrested many Alawi notables. Al-Ali fled to the north, but a large French force overran his positions and al-Ali went underground.
When the French finally occupied Syria in 1920, they recognized the term Alaouites, i.e. “Alawites”, gave autonomy to them and other minority groups, and accepted them into their colonial troops. On 2 September 1920 an Alawite State was created in the coastal and mountain country comprising Alawite villages; the French justified this separation with the “backwardness” of the mountain-dwelling people, religiously distinct from the surrounding Sunni population. It was a division meant to protect the Alawite people from more powerful majorities. Under the mandate, many Alawite chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawite nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence. The French encouraged Alawites to join their military force, in part to provide a counterweight to the Sunni majority, which was more hostile to their rule. According to a 1935 letter by the French minister of war, the French considered the Alawites, along with the Druze, as the only “warlike races” in the mandate territories, as excellent soldiers, and the communities from where they could recruit their best troops.
The region was both coastal and mountainous, and home to a mostly rural, highly heterogeneous population. During the French Mandate period, society was divided by religion and geography: the landowning families of the port city of Latakia, and 80% of the population of the city, were Sunni Muslim. However, more than 90% of the population of the province was rural, 62% being Alawite peasantry. In May 1930, the Alawite State was renamed “the Government of Latakia”, the only concession the French made to Arab nationalists until 1936. There was a great deal of Alawite separatist sentiment in the region, as evidenced by a letter dating to 1936 and signed by 80 Alawi notables and was addressed to the French Prime Minister stating that “Alawite people rejected attachment to Syria and wished to stay under French protection.” Among the signatories was Sulayman Ali al-Assad, the father of Hafez al-Assad who would later become president of the country, and grandfather of Bashar al-Assad, the current president. However, these political views could not be coordinated into a unified voice. This was attributed to the majority of Alawites being peasants “exploited by a predominantly Sunni landowning class resident in Latakia and Hama”. Nevertheless, on 3 December 1936 (effective in 1937), the Alawite State was re-incorporated into Syria as a concession by the French to the Nationalist Bloc, the party in power of the semi-autonomous Syrian government.
In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawites, was given to Turkey by the French following a plebiscite carried out in the province under the guidance of League of Nations which favored joining Turkey. However, this development greatly angered the Alawite community and Syrians in general. In 1938, the Turkish military had gone into Alexandretta and expelled most of its Arab and Armenian inhabitants. Before this, Alawite Arabs and Armenians were the majority of the province’s population. Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawite leader from Iskandarun province in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a co-founder of the Ba’ath Party along with the Eastern Orthodox Christian schoolteacher Michel Aflaq and Sunni politician Salah al-Din al-Bitar when his Arab Ba’ath merged with their Arab Ba’ath Movement . After World War II, Salman Al Murshid played a major role in uniting the Alawite province with Syria. He was executed by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus on December 12, 1946 only three days after a hasty political trial.
After Syrian independence
Syria became independent on April 17, 1946. In 1949, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups and the rise of the Ba’ath Party. In 1958, Syria and Egypt were united through a political agreement into the United Arab Republic. The UAR lasted for three years. In 1961, it broke apart when a group of army officers seized power and declared Syria independent anew.
A further succession of coups ensued until, in 1963, a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawite officers, including Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba’ath Party seize power. In 1966, Alawite-affiliated military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba’ath that had looked to the founders of the Ba’ath Party, the Greek Orthodox Christian Michel Aflaq and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar, for leadership. They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi as the “Socrates” of their reconstituted Ba’ath Party.
In 1970, then Air Force General, Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite, took power and instigated a “Correctionist Movement” in the Ba’ath Party. The coup of 1970 ended the political instability that had lasted since the arrival of independence. Robert D. Kaplan has compared Hafez al-Assad’s coming to power to “an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the Sunni majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries.” In 1971, al-Assad declared himself president of Syria, a position the constitution at the time allowed only for Sunni Muslims to hold. In 1973, a new constitution was adopted that omitted the old requirement that the religion of the state be Islam and replaced it with the statement that the religion of the republic’s president is Islam. Protests erupted when this was known. In 1974, in order to satisfy this constitutional requirement, Musa Sadr, a leader of the Twelvers of Lebanon and founder of the Amal Movement who had earlier sought to unite Lebanese Alawites and Shi’ites under the Supreme Islamic Shi’ite Council without success, issued a fatwa stating that Alawites were a community of Twelver Shi’ite Muslims. Under the authoritarian but secular Assad government, religious minorities were tolerated more than before, but political dissidents were not. In 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an anti-government Islamist insurgency, Hafez Assad staged a military offensive against them which has since been referred to as the Hama massacre.
Alawites celebrating a festival in Banyas, Syria, during World War II
The Alawites derive their beliefs from the Prophets of Islam, from the Quran, and from the books of the Imams from the Ahlulbayt such as the Nahj al-Balagha by Ali ibn Abu Talib. Alawites are self-described Shi’ite Muslims, and have been recognised as such by Shi’ite authorities such as Ayatollah Khomeini and the influential Lebanese Shi’ite cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon. The prominent Sunni Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni also issued a fatwah recognizing them as part of the Muslim community in the interest of Arab nationalism. Some Sunni scholars such as Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, have categorized Alawites as pagans in their religious works and documents. At least one source has compared them to Baha’is, Babis, Bektashis, Ahmadis, and “similar groups that have arisen within the Muslim community”.
Alawite man in Latakia, early 20th century
Some tenets of the faith may be secret and known only to a select few Alawis.  Alawis may have integrated doctrines from other religions (syncretism), in particular from Ismaili Islam and Christianity. Alawis are reported to celebrate certain Christian festivals, “in their own way”, including Christmas, Easter, and Palm Sunday. The claim that Alawis believe Ali is a deity has been contested by scholars. By some accounts, Alawis believe in reincarnation.
Alawi women in Syria, early 20th century
Some sources have suggested that the non-Muslim nature of some of the historical Alawite beliefs, notwithstanding, Alawite beliefs may have changed in recent decades. In the early 1970s a booklet entitled “al-`Alawiyyun Shi’atu Ahl al-Bait” (“The Alawites are Followers of the Household of the Prophet”), was issued in which doctrines of the Imami Shi’ah were described as Alawite, and which was “signed by numerous `Alawi` men of religion”.
A scholar suggests that factors such as the high profile of Alawites in Syria, the strong aversion of the Muslim majority to apostasy, and the relative lack of importance of religious doctrine to Alawite identity may have induced Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad and his successor son to press their fellow Alawites “to behave like ‘regular Muslims’, shedding or at least concealing their distinctive aspects”.
Alawites have their own scholars, referred to as shaikhs, although more recently there has been a movement to bring Alawism and the other branches of Twelver Islam together through educational exchange programs in Syria and Qom.
Some sources have talked about “Sunnification” of Alawites under Baathist Syrian leader and Alawite Hafiz al-Assad. Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, writes that Hafiz al-Assad “tried to turn Alawites into ‘good’ (read Sunnified) Muslims in exchange for preserving a modicum of secularism and tolerance in society.” On the other hand Al-Assad “declared the Alawites to be nothing but Twelver Shiites”. In a paper on “Islamic Education in Syria”, Landis wrote that “no mention” is made in Syrian textbooks controlled by the Al-Assad regime, of Alawites, Druze, and Ismailis or even Shi`a Islam. Islam was presented as a monolithic religion. Ali Sulayman al-Ahmad, chief judge of the Baathist Syrian state, has stated: “We are Alawi Muslims. Our book is the Quran. Our prophet is Muhammad. The Ka`ba is our qibla, and our religion is Islam.”
Map showing the current distribution of Alawites in the Levant
Traditionally Alawites have lived in the Alawite Mountains along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Latakia and Tartous are the region’s principal cities. Today Alawites are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs. Alawites also live in all major cities of Syria. They have been estimated to constitute about 12% of Syria’s population—2.6 million people of Syria’s 22 million population.
There are four Alawite confederations—Kalbiyya, Khaiyatin, Haddadin, and Matawirah—each divided into tribes. Alawites are concentrated in the Latakia region of Syria, extending north to Antioch (Antakya), Turkey, and in and around Homs and Hama.
Before 1953, Alawites held specifically reserved seats in the Syrian Parliament like all other religious communities. After that, including for the 1960 census, there were only general Muslim and Christian categories, without mention of subgroups in order to reduce “communalism” (taïfiyya).
There are an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 Alawites in Lebanon, where they have lived since at least the 16th century. They are recognized as one of the 18 official Lebanese sects, and due to the efforts of their leader Ali Eid, the Taif Agreement of 1989 gave them two reserved seats in the Parliament. Lebanese Alawites live mostly in the Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood of Tripoli, where they number 40,000–60,000, and in 15 villages in the Akkar region, and are mainly represented by the Arab Democratic Party. Their Mufti is Sheikh Assad Assi. The Bab al-Tabbaneh, Jabal Mohsen clashes between pro-Syrian Alawites and anti-Syrian Sunnis have haunted Tripoli for decades.
There are also about 2000 Alawites living in the village of Ghajar, split between Lebanon and the Golan Heights. In 1932, the residents of Ghajar were given the option of choosing their nationality and overwhelmingly chose to be a part of Syria, which has a sizable Alawite minority. Prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the residents of Ghajar were counted in the 1960 Syrian census. When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar remained a no-man’s land for two and a half months.
In order to avoid confusion with Alevis, Alawites prefer the self-appellation Arap Alevileri (“Arab Alevis”) in Turkish. The term Nusayrī, which used to exist in (often polemical) theological texts is also revived in recent studies. In Çukurova, they are named as Fellah and Arabuşağı, the latter considered highly offensive by Alawites, by the Sunni population. A quasi-official name used particularly in 1930s by Turkish authorities was Eti Türkleri (“Hittite Turks”), in order to conceal their Arab origins. Today, this term is almost obsolete but it is still used by some people of older generations as a euphemism.
The exact number of Alawites in Turkey is unknown, but there were 185,000 in 1970 (this number suggests circa 400,000 in 2009). As Muslims, they are not recorded separately from Sunnis in ID registration. In the 1965 census (the last Turkish census where informants were asked their mother tongue), 180,000 people in the three provinces declared their mother tongue as Arabic. However, Arabic-speaking Sunni and Christian people are also included in this figure. Alawites traditionally speak the same dialect of Levantine Arabic with Syrian Alawites. Arabic is best preserved in rural communities and Samandağ. Younger people in Çukurova cities and (to a lesser extent) in İskenderun tend to speak Turkish. Turkish spoken by Alawites is distinguished by Alawites and non-Alawites alike by its particular accents and vocabulary. Knowledge of the Arabic alphabet is confined to religious leaders and men who have worked or studied in Arab countries.
Alawites show a considerable pattern of social mobility. Until 1960s, they used to work bound to Sunni aghas around Antakya and were among the poorest folk in Çukurova. Today, Alawites are prominent in economic sectors such as transportation and commerce. A large professional middle-class had also emerged. In recent years, there has been a tendency of exogamy, particularly among males who had attended universities and/or had lived in other parts of Turkey. These marriages are highly tolerated but exogamy of women, as in other patrilineal groups, is usually disfavoured.
Alawites, like Alevis, mainly have strong leftist political preferences. However, some people in rural areas (usually members of notable Alawite families) may be found supporting secularist conservative parties such as True Path Party. Most Alawites feel discriminated by the policies of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı).
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“…The top two Defense Department officials were sharply challenged by lawmakers Thursday on their insistent claims that nothing more could have been done to save the four Americans who were killed in the Sept. 11 terror attack in Benghazi.
Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were peppered with questions from Republican senators during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The officials claimed military aircraft and other assets were too far away to get to the scene in time, and suggested armed aircraft like F16s could have done more harm than good in a chaotic situation. The senators, though, pressed the officials for a fuller explanation on why military assets were not deployed to rescue Americans under attack that night – in what will likely be their last chance to question the outgoing Defense secretary.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disputed testimony that the difficulty in dispatching assets to the scene was “a problem of distance and time.” He suggested the “light footprint” in the region and a failure to respond to threats left the military ill-prepared.
“For you to testify that our posture would not allow a rapid response — our posture was not there because we didn’t take into account the threats to that consulate, and that’s why four Americans died,” he said. “We could have placed forces there. We could have had aircraft and other capacity a short distance away.”
He continued: “No forces arrived there until well after these murders took place.”
Dempsey acknowledged having gotten word of a warning from the U.S. consulate about being unable to withstand a sustained attack, but said the military never got a request for support from the State Department.
“So it’s the State Department’s fault?” McCain asked, curtly.
“I’m not blaming the State Department,” Dempsey said.
McCain responded: “Who would you blame?”
Dempsey went on to claim that several U.S. posts were facing significant threats, though McCain said none so much as Benghazi.
Shortly afterward, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pressed Panetta again on why no forces were deployed until after the attack was over. Dempsey and Panetta said they talked to President Obama one time that night, but Graham questioned why there weren’t subsequent follow-up conversations.
“It lasted almost eight hours … did the president show any curiosity?” Graham asked.
Panetta said there was “no question” Obama “was concerned about American lives.”
“With all due respect,” Graham responded, “I don’t believe that’s a credible statement if he never called and asked you, ‘are we helping these people?’”
The secretary’s testimony on Benghazi was long-sought by Republican lawmakers. After then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified last month, Graham had demanded that Panetta be brought before the Senate — threatening to hold up the nomination of his prospective replacement Chuck Hagel over the issue.
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced last week that Panetta would testify.
Responding to long-running questions about whether more military assets could have been dispatched to protect those under fire in Libya on Sept. 11, Panetta in his opening statement claimed there simply wasn’t enough time to do more.
“There was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond,” he said before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response. … Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”
Still, he said the Pentagon “spared no effort … to save American lives.”
Panetta was testifying in what may be his final public appearance on Capitol Hill as he prepares to leave the department.
Panetta, in his testimony, detailed the military response on the day and night of the attack.
As Fox News has previously reported, he said an unarmed, unmanned drone was positioned overhead the Benghazi compound.
But he said armed aircraft like AC-130 gunships would have taken too long to get there — “at least nine to 12 hours if not more to deploy.”
“This was, pure and simple … a problem of distance and time,” he said.
Panetta said he also directed that a Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team stationed in Spain prepare to deploy in addition to a second FAST platoon; a special operations force in Central Europe prepare to deploy to a staging base in Southern Europe; and a special ops force in the U.S. similarly prepare to deploy to Southern Europe.
As for what was happening in Libya, he claimed the “quickest response” was the Tripoli-based team of six people which was sent to Benghazi.
“Members of this team, along with others at the annex facility, provided emergency medical assistance and supported the evacuation of all personnel. Only 12 hours after the attacks had begun, all remaining U.S. government personnel had been safely evacuated from Benghazi,” he said.
Since the September assault, some have questioned whether enough was done to protect those at the consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed that night.
There have been questions about the perceived delays CIA officials – stationed in Benghazi — encountered that night and their frustration that air support was not sent from nearby Sigonella air base. In recent weeks, Fox News has learned that the rescue unit that left Tripoli was told that air support would be above when they landed in Benghazi, but it wasn’t. …”
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/02/07/panetta-defends-military-response-to-benghazi-attack-at-senate-hearing/#ixzz2KGmLO0Iu
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