Morning Report: December 22, 2006

Abizaid requests another carrier in Gulf. Debka: 'US Middle East Commander Gen. John Abizaid puts in request for another carrier in Gulf region as warning to Syria and Iran. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this request, revealed by a senior Pentagon official, is the first time in four years that an American general has asked for a special force as a deterrent for Syria and Iran. Our Washington sources interpret the publication of Gen. Abizaid’s request during the visit to Iraq of the new defense secretary Robert Gates’ and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace as indicating that the Bush administration is heading for a major operation against the two key threats to Iraq’s stability: the Sunni insurgents supported by Syria and the Shiite militias, which receive arms, intelligence and funding from Tehran. In its latest quarterly report, the defense department accused Iran and Syria of undermining the Iraqi government by providing both active and passive support to anti-government and anti-coalition forces. The application to deploy a third carrier in the Gulf in late March 2007 is a pointer to the projected timeline of this operation. It will confront Tehran and Damascus with the option of direct intervention to rescue their Iraqi allies, or standing aside. President George W. Bush is officially reported to have not yet decided on the coming steps in Iraq. However the central command’s application for another carrier suggests that the decision is more or less final. The carrier Eisenhower and its strike group are already in the Gulf region accompanied by guided missile destroyers and the nuclear assault submarine USS Newport, as is the USS Boxer Strike Group.' (Debka)

Indonesian Supreme Court overturns Ba'asyir conviction. Counterterrorism Blog: 'Late on Thursday, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the two-year conviction for militant cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. In doing so, the court was saying that the conviction of Ba'asyir was invalid--and his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing is not proven. The court also ordered the government to "rehabilitate" Ba'asyir's name, though at least one government spokesman on Thursday was insisting that they still viewed Ba'asyir as a terrorist. Few had anticipated the Supreme Court verdict, though in a sense it is not a surprise. During two separate trials, the Indonesian government prosecutors had put together incredibly weak cases against Ba'asyir. Part of this was blamed on incompetence. ... Regardless of where the fault lies, an emboldened Ba'asyir is certain to ratchet up his already fiery rhetoric. Yesterday was definitely two steps backward for Indonesia's counter-terrorist effort.' Full post at the link. (CTB)

Michael Totten is back. Michael J. Totten: 'I’m back from a three-week under-the-radar trip to Beirut and South Lebanon. I wanted to write about events there while they were happening. But I went to Hezbollah’s southern “capital” of Bint Jbail, and also to their blasted-apart command and control center in the dahiyeh, the suburb south of Beirut. I’m on their “list,” so to speak, and it was both easier and safer to work without announcing my presence and giving them the chance to run interference. ...' Go read the rest - and wish Michael a speedy recovery from that flu. (MJT)

Islamists waging "full-scale war" on Ethiopian troops in Somalia. News24: 'Fighting between Ethiopia-backed government troops and Islamist forces raged for a third day on Friday in southern Somalia, with the Islamists vowing to wage "full-scale war". Islamic commander Hassan Bullow said: "Our Mujahideen are ready to defend themselves from the invading enemies. This war is a religious obligation and we are here to fight for our religion against the enemies until we die." Ethiopia was supporting Somalia's weak government against the Islamist forces, which controlled the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.'