The Obama administration is intensifying its secretive bombing campaign in Yemen in the absence of wounded Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The New York Times reports the United States is exploiting Saleh’s departure for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia to increase drone and fighter jet strikes against militant targets. Last week U.S. warplanes killed a prominent al-Qaeda operative along with a number of other militants in southern Yemen. Witnesses report four civilians were also killed. The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command is heading the covert campaign along with the CIA. The intensified strikes come as conditions for Yemeni residents continue to worsen. The U.N.’s World Food Program reports food prices in the country have doubled since last year, causing significant numbers to go hungry. Meanwhile, opposition leaders have called for the creation of a presidential council to lead a transition in Saleh’s absence. Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia after being wounded in an attack on his compound last week.
NATO has resumed bombing the Libyan capital of Tripoli following a brief pause. Tripoli has seen some of the most intensive NATO bombardment to date over the past week. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the United Arab Emirates today for a meeting of the Libya Contact Group. The meeting will focus on planning for relations with Libya should Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi be overthrown. At a meeting in Brussels, NATO Defense Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked member nations for increasing support for the bombing campaign.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: '’For the sustainability of this operation, it would be good to broaden the support, and in general terms I have requested such broadened support either by increased contributions or new contributions or a more flexible use of the assets provided for the operation.'’
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says he has gathered new evidence Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi is using rape as deliberate tactic against government opponents. Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the Gaddafi regime is medicating its forces with Viagra to encourage the raping of women.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo: "Now we are getting some information that Gaddafi himself decided to rape. And this is new. It never was the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression. We are finding some elements confirming this issue of acquisition of Viagra-type of medicaments, who show in the policy. They were buying containers with products to enhance the possibility to rape women."
Ocampo requested arrest warrants for Gaddafi and two others for crimes against humanity last month.
France and Britain are readying a new U.N. Security Council resolution targeting the Syrian regime. Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant, discussed the measure on Wednesday.
Mark Lyall Grant: "Last weekend saw the worst violence ever with more than 200 people reported killed, both protesters and members of the security forces. And it is clear that the abuse of human rights, the violence by the Syrian government against its people is increasing. And it is against that background that today the four European Union members of the Security Council introduced a revised draft resolution on Syria."
The new resolution comes as more Syrians continue to flee the government crackdown on opposition protests. Turkey says more than 1,000 people have crossed over the border from Syria in the past 24 hours. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Obama administration will vote to impose new penalties on Syria.
Susan Rice: "I’m most concerned that the United States of America express itself clearly and plainly. We will be on the right side of history, as and when this comes to a vote. If others are unable to or unwilling to, then that will be their responsibility to bear."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has released a report warning U.S. development programs in Afghanistan are unlikely to survive a U.S. withdrawal. The warning comes as veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker appeared before the committee in his confirmation hearings to become the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
Ryan Crocker: "There is no intention that I see in any of my consultations here — I certainly don’t come with such an intention — to produce the perfect society. We can’t. But I think by judicious use of resources and conditions-based redeployments and transfers of responsibility, as will begin this July, we can get to that sustainable stability."
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana was among those to question U.S. spending in Afghanistan.
Sen. Richard Lugar: "Despite 10 years of investment and attempts to better understand the culture and the region’s actors, we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress but fails to deliver a secure political or military resolution. In Afghanistan, measuring success according to relative progress has very little meaning. Undoubtedly, we will make some progress when we are spending more than $100 billion per year in that country."
The White House says President Obama has personally apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for recent U.S. killings of Afghan civilians. In a statement, the Obama administration said Obama "expressed his sorrow" to Karzai in a nearly one-hour conversation.
A longtime al-Qaeda deputy has issued a new video threatening the United States in the wake of last month’s killing of Osama bin Laden. In a 28-minute video, Ayman al-Zawahiri vows to continue a campaign against the United States and warns of what he calls a "Muslim rebellion." The video appears to be Zawahiri’s first public statement since bin Laden’s killing.
The border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip has been reopened after a four-day closure. Egyptian officials say the Rafah crossing will now operate six days a week, and women, minors and men over 40 years old will no longer be required to obtain a visa to enter Egypt.
The United Nations has opened an international gathering on HIV/AIDS to review progress against the disease and affirm new commitments. The High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS is expected to adopt a pledge to ensure universal treatment by 2015. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS head Michel Sidibé addressed the opening session.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Today’s historic meeting is a call to action. First, we need all partners to come together in global solidarity as never before. That is the only way to truly provide universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care by 2015."
Michel Sidibé: "It is not a question of paying now or paying later. Either we pay now, or we pay forever. Getting to zero also demands that we unleash the power of innovation."
As the gathering began, hundreds of people from around the world marched to the United Nations to demand firm commitments to combat HIV/AIDS. Democracy Now! spoke to Lucy Chesire of TB Action Group Kenya.
Lucy Chesire: "When you look at the African continent, we have over 1,500 people who are dying of TB every day. We know very well at the end of the day that TB is the leading killer of people living with HIV and AIDS. And for me to be in this meeting, even during this [...] process, I would really want to hold the leaders accountable to the promises they have made in addressing the two diseases together."
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is accusing the Sudanese government of ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. On Wednesday, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said a recent review has found new evidence against indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo: "On the crimes investigated about President Bashir, nothing changed. On the contrary, what we see is the incidents in the last six months show that the genocide continues. And that is something we try to see what else can be done."
Bashir has rejected his indictment and vowed to never surrender. The Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, said the ICC is ignoring crimes committed by Darfurian rebels.
Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman: "The linkage between the Security Council and the ICC jeopardizes the international justice. We told all the members that we are keen, more than anybody else, to put an end to this conflict. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard a single — or we didn’t see a single mention in the report blaming the rebels who initiated the killings and who played havoc in Darfur, who killed thousands, or hundreds of thousands of innocent people."
The case against National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake appears to be unraveling ahead of its trial date next week. The Washington Post reports prosecutors have dropped plans to introduce key documents in the case, thereby reducing their chances of obtaining a conviction. Drake is being prosecuted for leaking information about waste and mismanagement at the National Security Agency, where he worked as a high-level analyst. Drake was the source for a Baltimore Sun series on the NSA’s overspending and failure to properly maintain its large trove of domestic spy data. He faces 35 years in prison for espionage but is not actually accused of spying. Instead, he is accused of holding on to classified documents in his basement that he says he did not know were classified. Analysts say the withdrawal of key exhibits in the case will likely lead to the dismissal of several counts or possibly of even the entire case.