TIME Yemen

President of Yemen Flees by Sea; Saudis Begin Air Strikes

In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.
Wael Qubady—AP In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.

Houthi rebels and their allies moved on Aden, captured its airport and put a bounty on the President's head

(SANAA, Yemen) — President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said. Hours later, Saudi Arabia announced it had begun airstrikes against the Houthi rebels.

The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir said his country had begun airstrikes against the rebels. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

There were indications that others in the region would follow suit: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

In a statement from the state news agency Egypt, too, announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” the statement said.

Arab leaders are expected to meet in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik this weekend for a pre-planned summit, which is now expected to be dominated by the developments in Yemen. It is not clear if Hadi will be able to attend the summit.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

In fighting in Lahj, they captured Hadi’s defense minister, Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and then swept into the nearby al-Annad base, which the U.S. military had left.

The Houthis are backed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV aired pictures of the operation. The dark screen flashed with glaring lights and there was what sounded like machine guns or possibly anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, told Al-Hadath that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden after 3:30 p.m. on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

Saleh said in a speech two weeks ago that Hadi might head for the African country of Djibouti across the gulf, just as leaders of southern Yemen fled.

Officials said Hadi had been preparing for the move since Sunday, when rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi vowed in a fiery speech that his forces will keep advancing south, referring to Hadi as a “puppet” of international powers.

Shortly after Hadi fled his palace in Aden, warplanes targeted presidential forces guarding it. No casualties were reported. By midday, Aden’s airport fell into hands of forces loyal to Saleh based in the city after intense clashes with pro-Hadi militias.

Yemen’s state TV, now controlled by the Houthis, announced a bounty of nearly $100,000 for Hadi’s capture.

The Houthis still face multiple opponents. Sunni tribesmen and local militias are fighting them in many places around Yemen, and the rebels have little support in the south.

Some military units remain loyal to Hadi, although they are severely weakened. Alarmingly, al-Qaida militants have emerged as a powerful force against the rebels, and there are signs of a presence of the even more extremist Islamic State group. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings against the Houthis in Sanaa that killed 137 people.

AQAP is considered the terrorist group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S. bound airlines, although none exploded. U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against AQAP are seriously hampered, with the U.S. Embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated.

Although the Houthis are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with U.S. support. The deeply anti-American rebels have rejected Washington’s overtures, officials say.

Hadi’s exit is a humiliating reversal, coming in large part at the hands of Saleh, the man he replaced in 2012 under a deal that allowed the former leader to remain free.

The atmosphere in Aden was tense, with most schools, government offices, shops and restaurants closed. In the few cafes still open, men watched the news on TV. Looters went through two abandoned army camps, taking weapons and ammunition.

Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, told the rebel-controlled Al-Masirah news channel that their forces were not aiming to occupy the south.

TIME

Kerry Lands in Switzerland for Make-or-Break Iran Nuke Talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry waits to address the Global Chief of Missions meeting at the State Department in Washington on March 25, 2015.
Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry waits to address the Global Chief of Missions meeting at the State Department in Washington on March 25, 2015.

Ahead of an end-of-month deadline for the outline of a deal

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Switzerland to resume Iran nuclear talks as negotiations go down to the wire against an end-of-month deadline for the outline of a deal.

With just days until that target is reached, Kerry touched down in Geneva late Wednesday and was driven to the lake resort of Lausanne. En route to Geneva, U.S. officials said the deadline is achievable but remains uncertain amid significant gaps in certain areas.

One official traveling with Kerry to the talks said the American side “can see a path forward to get to agreement” by the end of March. The official said the last round of talks, also in Lausanne, produced more progress than many previous rounds when it ended last weekend. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry is hoping to seal a framework deal to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief in make-or-break talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The top diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia would join if the U.S. and Iran are close to an agreement.

The pressure is high. The seven nations have set themselves a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final accord they hope to seal by the end of June. Both President Barack Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have spoken against what would be a third extension of the talks.

And opponents, among them wary American allies in the Middle East and hardliners in Iran and in Congress, stand ready to complicate the process if negotiators cannot reach a breakthrough in the next six days. American lawmakers have threatened new sanctions on Iran as well as the establishment of a process which would allow them to vote down any final accord.

The United States and its partners are trying to get Iran to cut the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, material that can be used in warheads, and agree to other restrictions on what the Islamic Republic insists is a peaceful nuclear program.

Speaking Wednesday morning to U.S. ambassadors, Kerry assailed opponents of a deal.

“What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable?” Kerry asked. “Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want… And the sanctions will not hold.”

Kerry said the whole point of years of U.S. sanctions was to get Iran to agree to limits on its nuclear program. He said it was the Obama administration’s job to “provide an agreement that is as good as we said it will be; that will get the job done; that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The alternative to diplomacy could mean Iran is left to “just expand its program full-speed ahead,” Kerry said. “You know we can’t accept that. So where does that take you? Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table. And I have yet to see anybody do that.”

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Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed from Washington.

TIME Yemen

Saudis Begin Air Strikes Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen

Vowing to do "anything necessary" to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels

(WASHINGTON) — Saudi Arabia began airstrikes Wednesday against Houthi rebel positions in Yemen, vowing that the Sunni kingdom will do “anything necessary” to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shiite rebels.

The airstrikes campaign was announced at the Saudi embassy in Washington by Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in a rare news conference. Offensive military action by Saudi Arabia is also a rarity, although Saudi Arabia is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria.

There were indications that regional assistance to Yemen was extending beyond Saudi Arabia.

In a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain said they would answer a request from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

The GCC is expected to meet this weekend in Saudi Arabia and Hadi is expected to attend.

Driven weeks ago from the capital by the Houthis, Hadi abandoned the country, leaving on a boat from the southern port of Aden, Yemeni security officials said. His departure came after rebel airstrikes rained down on his troops, a sign that rebels held air superiority and that Hadi’s calls for an international no-fly zone had been disregarded. On the ground, the rebels were advancing toward his position.

Al-Jubeir said the Saudi air operations began at 7 p.m. EDT, and noted he “had never seen militias with air power,” a reference to Iranian deliveries of weaponry to the Houthis.

Loud, house-shaking explosions could be heard in the Yemen capital of Sanaa and fire and smoke could be seen in the night sky, according to an Associated Press correspondent whose home is near the military airbase in the capital.

Al-Jubeir said the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence.” He declined to say whether the Saudi campaign involved U.S. intelligence assistance.

He sadid the Saudis “will do anything necessary” to protect the people of Yemen and “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

Hadi’s departure illustrated how one of the most important American counterterrorism efforts has disintegrated, leaving the country wide open for what could be a deeply destabilizing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi announcement only reinforced that notion.

Three years ago, American officials hailed Hadi’s ascension to power in a U.S.-brokered deal that ended the longtime rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh during the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. Just a few months ago, President Barack Obama was still calling Yemen a counterterrorism success story, even as the CIA warned that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were growing restive in the north of the country.

Now, U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against Yemen’s dangerous al-Qaida affiliate are seriously hampered, with the American embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated from the country over the weekend. Although the Houthis have seized control of much of the country and are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with American support, officials say. Deeply anti-American, the Houthis have rejected U.S. overtures, officials say.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the terror group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S.-bound airlines, although none exploded. The chaos in Yemen will give the group breathing space, American officials acknowledge.

Beyond terrorism, the latest developments in Yemen have worrisome implications for a Middle East already wracked by Sunni-Shia conflict, experts say. Before the airstrikes began, Saudi Arabia bolstered its troop presence along its border with Yemen.

“This is all about Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi vs. Iran,” said Michael Lewis, professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law and a former Navy fighter pilot who watches Yemen closely. The U.S., he said, “can’t be a disinterested observer. Nobody’s going to buy that. What we needed to do was pick a side.”

But the U.S. had made no move to protect the Hadi government as the Houthis advanced, and American officials gave no indication Wednesday that their stance of neutrality had changed. Asked whether the U.S. military had considered trying to rescue Hadi, a senior American official who declined to be quoted answered: “The tinderbox in Yemen is most complicated because of the geopolitics at stake. The U.S., Saudis, Iranians, Houthis, Yemenis, AQAP, ISIL and AQ have equities in the situation and factor into any decision the U.S. makes or doesn’t make.”

As late as Monday, officials insisted the U.S. was still working with Hadi’s government, despite the fact that the president had been forced out of the capital and the parliament dissolved.

“There continues to be ongoing security cooperation between the United States and the national security infrastructure of the Hadi government,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

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Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Sarah el-Deeb in Cairo and Lolita C. Baldor and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Iraq

U.S. Conducts Air Strikes on ISIS in Tikrit

Iraqi security forces launch a rocket toward Islamic State extremist positions during clashes in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, March 26, 2015.
Khalid Mohammed—AP Iraqi security forces launch a rocket toward Islamic State extremist positions during clashes in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, March 26, 2015.

The bombing marked a significant expansion of the U.S. military role in Iraq

(TIKRIT, IRAQ)—Iraqi troops have launched the final phase of an offensive to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, an official said Thursday, hours after the U.S. launched airstrikes on the Islamic State-held city.

Clashes intensified as Iraqi troops and special forces moved toward the city center, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press. Earlier Thursday, an Associated Press reporter heard a second round of airstrikes over Tikrit.

The Islamic State group seized the Sunni city last summer during its lightning advance across northern Iraq. The battle for Tikrit is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the Islamic State group from Iraq’s second largest city Mosul, which is further north.

In an address late Wednesday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces began the “final phase” in the Tikrit offensive but did not acknowledge that coalition forces were playing a direct role. He said Iraqis, “and not anyone but you,” will claim victory against the militant group.

At Iraq’s request, the U.S. began airstrikes on Tikrit on Wednesday in support of the stalled ground offensive, Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander of the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State group, said Wednesday.

He said the airstrikes would “destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing” unintended damage to civilian structures.

“This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit,” Terry said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Tikrit is deemed an important test of the ability of Iraq, with coalition support, to retake ground it ceded to the Islamic State last year. The U.S. initially did not provide air support in Tikrit because Baghdad pointedly chose instead to partner with Iran in a battle it predicted would yield a quick victory. In recent days, however, the Pentagon has called the Iraqi offensive “stalled.”

An Associated Press correspondent in Tikrit reported hearing warplanes overhead late Wednesday, followed by multiple explosions. An Iraqi commander in the city told the AP that a warehouse used to store Islamic State weapons was bombed by a U.S. plane, and a U.S. official in Washington confirmed that arms warehouses were among the targets. The Iraqi commander spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the airstrikes.

The Washington official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss military details, said there were no more than one dozen airstrikes Wednesday, and said some were conducted by U.S. allies. The official had no details on the extent of allied participation, including which countries launched airstrikes.

U.S. airstrikes in Tikrit raise highly sensitive questions about participating in an Iraqi campaign that has been spearheaded by Iraqi Shiite militias trained and equipped by Iran, a U.S. adversary.

The U.S.-led air campaign, launched in August and joined by several European allies, has allowed Iraqi forces to halt the IS group’s advance and claw back some of the territory militants seized last summer.

But the growing Iranian presence on the ground has complicated the mission, with Washington refusing to work directly with a country it views as a regional menace, even though it is currently embroiled with Iran in sensitive negotiations over a nuclear deal.

The prominent role of the Shiite militias in the fight to retake Tikrit and other parts of Iraq’s Sunni heartland has also raised concerns that the offensive could deepen the country’s sectarian divide and drive Sunnis into the arms of the Islamic State group.

Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization and a commander of Iraq’s Shiite militias, told reporters in Samarra: “If we need them (the U.S.-led coalition ) we will tell them we need them. But we don’t need the coalition. We have surveillance planes over our heads already. The participation of U.S. planes hinders out operations. … If we need it, we’ll tell our government what we need.”

He claimed the militias, the overwhelming majority of which are made up of Shiite fighters, have their own surveillance drones. “We buy them anywhere,” he said. “We have our own … controlled by Iraqis.”

A series of U.S. airstrikes north of Tikrit, in the vicinity of Beiji, in recent weeks has had the indirect benefit of tying down Islamic State forces that might otherwise be operating in defense of Tikrit. On Wednesday, for example, the U.S. military said it had conducted five airstrikes Tuesday near Beiji, home of a major oil refinery that IS has sought to capture. That bombing targeted IS combat units and destroyed what the U.S. called an IS “fighting position,” as well as an IS armored vehicle.

Read next: U.S. Nuclear Talks With Iran Enter Critical Round Ahead of Deadline

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TIME Yemen

Yemen on the Brink of All-Out War as Rebels Move South

People flee after a gunfire on a street in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on March 25, 2015.
Yassir Hassan–AP People flee after a gunfire on a street in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on March 25, 2015

Analysts fear all-out warfare could allow al-Qaeda to grow in strength and stature

Shi‘ite rebel militias forced Yemen’s President to flee the country as they advanced on the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday, in a move that threatens to tip the country into full-scale civil war.

Yemen’s U.S.-backed President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Aden by boat on Wednesday, according to officials cited by the Associated Press. The state television network, now controlled by the Houthi rebels who seized control of the capital in September, announced a $100,000 bounty for Hadi’s capture.

The Houthis are mostly members of a Shi‘ite sect from the country’s north, and their decision to stage an offensive into the south is likely to further inflame tensions between the two regions, which in turn could also provide a recruiting boon for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the extremist group’s Yemen-based affiliate.

“As soon as the Houthis declare victory, then the real fighting will start, which is guerilla resistance across the south,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst in the capital, Sana‘a. “There are big questions that pertain to the survival of Yemen as a unified state.”

The Houthis stormed Sana‘a in September 2014, seeking greater representation in Hadi’s government. The President resigned in January and later fled to Aden to declare a rival government. The rebels are now allied with army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2011 following a pro-democracy uprising in 2011, but was allowed to remain in the country. Late on Wednesday, gunfire could reportedly be heard across the city of Aden as the rebel fighters sought to grain ground there.

The worsening violence in Yemen’s south could also turn into a wider regional conflict. Saudi Arabia moved heavy military equipment to its border with Yemen this week, perhaps out of concern that its neighbor might fall under the influence of Iran, the regional Shi‘ite powerhouse which has reportedly been arming and funding the rebels. Hadi’s government has also appealed for military intervention by other Arab states. The Arab league is set to discuss the plea on Thursday.

The offensive in the south will also empower extremist groups there, analysts say. AQAP, a sworn enemy of the Houthis, which controls territory there, is likely to position itself as the vanguard of resistance to the Houthi presence. Sunni tribes in southern Yemen, who argue that they have been marginalized by the capital since the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990, may be tempted to join the group’s ranks. “AQAP has been pushing a very sectarian narrative. It helps them do recruiting along sectarian lines,” said Adam Baron, a Yemen analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign relations.

That doesn’t bode well for the wider world, either. AQAP is among al-Qaeda’s most lethal franchises, and claimed responsibility in January for the deadly attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. As a result, the Yemeni affiliate has been a recurring target for the U.S. military and foreign intelligence operations, including unmanned drone strikes that have killed civilians, a source of resentment among Yemenis. But the U.S. forces won’t be able to use Yemen as a launchpad for counterterrorism operations any more; Washington evacuated all its personnel from the country on March 21 as conditions deteriorated. That leaves few obstacles to hinder AQAP’s growth.

“All the ingredients are there on the ground for al-Qaeda to grow and flourish and recruit,” said Nadwa al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst. “They will find a lot of recruits among frustrated southern people, southern youths, southern tribes. It’ll get ugly.”

Read next: Yemen Leader Asks U.N. to Back Military Action Against Rebels

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TIME Military

Army to Try Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Desertion and ‘Misbehavior’

Had no option if it wanted to maintain good order and discipline

The Army had little choice other than to charge Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with desertion. Otherwise, it faced an insurrection in the ranks, corrosion of discipline—or both.

“Bowe Bergdahl is a coward,” says Rob Kumpf, a one-time Army sergeant who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a refrain echoed by many active-duty troops, although Bergdahl has yet to tell his side of the story publicly. “While I strongly believe that we, as Americans, are duty bound to never leave one of our own behind,” Kumpf says, “I strongly hope that the government does what it needs to do to punish Mr. Bergdahl for his crimes.”

Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands in Afghanistan in 2009 after he reportedly became disillusioned with the war and walked away from his combat outpost. He was released after five years in captivity in a controversial exchange for five detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Army announced Wednesday that he is being charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. A preliminary hearing could lead to a full-fledged court martial.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, hailed the action. “My Army showed some backbone,” he says. “At least some of our generals have spines.”

The Army’s decision is gutsy, on two counts: first of all, it holds the White House, which celebrated his release with a Rose Garden ceremony featuring President Obama and Bergdahl’s parents, up to ridicule.

President Obama Makes A Statement On Release Of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
J.H. Owen – Pool / Getty ImagesPresident Obama hails Bergdahl’s return home last May with his parents, Jani and Bob.

Secondly, it means the Army could have to explain why it accepted Bergdahl as a soldier two years after he washed out of Coast Guard basic training, normally a red flag for recruiters.

While the desertion charge carries a maximum of five years imprisonment (only in a declared war can it carry the death penalty), the misbehavior charge could lead to a lifetime prison sentence. “The second charge—which is similar to ‘aiding and abetting’ in civilian parlance—suggests to me that we have strong evidence that Bergdahl may have given the Taliban important tactical information, or have otherwise been helpful to them,” Peters says.

While Bergdahl’s legal team didn’t respond directly to the charges in a statement it issued, it asked “that all Americans continue to withhold judgment until the facts of this case emerge.” Pentagon officials suggested a plea deal might avoid a public court-martial.

The Army faced grave consequences if it elected not to pursue the charges against Bergdahl. “The decision to court martial Bergdahl was probably the only one that the Army could make,” says Gary Anderson, a retired Marine colonel who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Any army has to have discipline at its core, and he is accused of deliberately leaving his post which endangered those soldiers who had to go look for him.”

Soldiers have alleged (although the Pentagon has said it can’t confirm) at least six U.S. troops died in clashes with the Taliban while hunting for Bergdahl after he went missing and was seized by the Taliban in Paktika province on June 30, 2009. “Bergdahl’s walking away was a large factor contributing to my son’s death,” Andy Andrews of Cameron, Texas, told TIME after Bergdahl’s release. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed by an RPG September 4, 2009, while protecting a fellow soldier. They had been on a routine patrol near where Bergdahl vanished, and had been asking locals about him when they were attacked. “Sergeant Bergdahl is not a hero, and my son—who sacrificed himself to save others—was a hero,” Andrews said.

The Taliban released Bergdahl last May in a controversial trade for five Taliban detainees the U.S. was holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill criticized Obama for not informing them of the trade before it happened. Soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit kept quiet about his disappearance until the White House ceremony heralding his return to the U.S.

“I think he abandoned his post while the other four soldiers were asleep,” Greg Leatherman, Bergdahl’s former squad leader, told TIME after Bergdahl returned to U.S. soil (he has spent much of his time since at a San Antonio, Texas, Army post, where his preliminary hearing will be held at a yet-to-be-specified date). “He was a loner, he didn’t like to share much with anyone. Read the Koran quite a bit, which I respected. I saw it as him trying to be a better soldier, learning more about the people we were going to work with,” Leatherman said. “Turns out he was preparing.”

Charles Jenkins’ fate illustrates what Bergdahl might face, if the pre-trial hearing announced Wednesday leads to his eventual conviction at court martial. Jenkins deserted his Army unit in South Korea in 1965 and lived in North Korea until 2004. He ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy. He received a dishonorable discharge, was stripped to the Army’s lowest rank, forfeited all pay and benefits, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison (he got out six days early for good behavior). He now lives in Japan.

But Jenkins was 64 when sentenced (Bergdahl turns 29 Saturday) and no one allegedly died trying to find Jenkins after he headed north through the Demilitarized Zone one freezing January night nearly 50 years ago.

The case also poses some risks for the Army itself. Bergdahl was discharged early from the Coast Guard, after only 26 days in boot camp in 2006, two years before he tried to enlist in the Army. The Coast Guard described the action as an “uncharacterized discharge,” which is typical for someone who leaves the service without completing basic training.

Generally such an event would have required a waiver from the Army before allowing such a prospective recruit to enlist. A wide variety of bars to enlistment—including legal problems and health concerns—require waivers because the Pentagon believes such recruits won’t do as well in uniform as those without such warning signs.

In 2008, the year Bergdahl joined the Army, the service granted waivers for about 20% of its recruits, usually for illicit drug use or other legal problems. Such waivers spiked as popular support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sagged and the Army found it more difficult to entice young Americans to enlist.

Read next: The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

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TIME

Israel’s Netanyahu Tapped to Form New Government

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s president has formally tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, giving the Israeli leader up to six weeks to put together a new ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party captured 30 seats in last week’s national election, making it the largest party in the 120-seat parliament. Although his party does not control a majority, party leaders controlling a total of 67 seats have recommended that Netanyahu lead the next government for what would be his third consecutive term as prime minister.

With these parties backing him, Netanyahu is all but guaranteed of forming a governing coalition. But the various partners will all be making conflicting demands for Cabinet portfolios, meaning that weeks of negotiations could lie ahead.

TIME Aviation

Why the Black Box Recordings Deepen Germanwings Crash Mystery

Reports suggest that one of the pilots tried to break back into the cabin minutes before the plane crashed

BREAKING NEWS: Prosecutor Says Germanwings Co-Pilot Purposely Crashed Plane

Voice recordings retrieved from the wreckage of the Germanwings plane that crashed on Tuesday suggest that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit and then tried to break down the door to gain entry minutes before it hit Alpine slopes in southern France.

Agence France Presse and the New York Times quote an unnamed investigator who describes the sounds heard from the plane cockpit. The official describes hearing a chair being pushed back and the door opening and closing. Then knocking is heard.

The investigator told the New York Times: “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

Germanwings said in a statement that at the moment, “we do not have information from competent authorities to confirm this story. We are doing everything to get the most information possible and we are not engaging in speculation.”

After the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, airlines, cockpit doors were strengthened and altered so they could only be opened from the inside.

The focus of the investigation will include the character and health of the pilots. Aviation experts told AFP: “If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die.”

With Europe in shock at the crash, the leaders of the countries most affected, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy landed by helicopter in the tiny village of Seyne-Les-Alpes on Wednesday, the base for rescue teams scouring the Alpine slopes. Hollande later told reporters that there had been “not the slightest possibility of saving anyone, because there were no survivors.” After flying over the area, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was “a picture of horror.”

Rescue teams face daunting logistical tasks working on steep mountain slopes, far from the narrow twisting roads that wind through the Alps. Many have been dropped from helicopters and then roped together for safety as they pick their way through debris to collect body parts of the victims.

Germanwings flight 9525, which crashed midway from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, had six crew and 144 passengers from about 15 different countries, mostly from Germany and Spain. Among the dead were 16 teenagers from a small German town called Haltern, who were flying home from a week’s school exchange program in Barcelona. One of their teachers had just got married. Also aboard were two Americans, and three generations of one Spanish family. “We are in a state of shock and grief and mourning,” Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann told reporters, adding that some crew members were too distraught to work.

Then there is the job of identifying the bodies. Police told Hollande, Merkel and Rajoy that they were designing a system to transport the remains off the mountain for DNA identification, probably in Marseille.

The voice recordings may have added important clues to what happened to the plane, an Airbus A320, one of the European manufacturer’s best-selling models. It was in seemingly good condition — Germanwings said it was inspected the day before the crash. It lost control at cruising altitude of about 36,000 feet, rather than on takeoff or landing, as is the case in many plane crashes and the pilots did not send out a distress call before the plane slammed into the mountain. Complicating the investigation, the plane obliterated on impact. “When we go to a crash site we expect to find part of the fuselage, but here we see nothing at all,” Xavier Roy, the pilot coordinating air operations, told Reuters.

Rescue teams found the cockpit voice recorder, one of the two so-called black boxes, on Tuesday, badly dented and twisted in the impact. Jouty, the air-safety director, told reporters that there were human voices on the recording, yet they did yet not know whose they were.

The recording helps explain what happened between 10.30 a.m. and 10.32 a.m. That is when the two pilots lost radio contact with control towers in southern France. A local traffic controller sent a “loss of radio contact” distress signal at 10:47 a.m., saying the pilots had not answered several calls, Le Monde reported on Wednesday. A few minutes after that, the plane crashed.

In understanding what happened, officials will try interpret even the silences on the voice recorder — perhaps clues about whether the pilots were somehow incapacitated, or whether the engines were running normally. “Even if there is no conversation in the last half hour, we can then work on the sounds inside the cockpit,” French Transportation Minister Alain Vidalies told Europe1 radio on Wednesday.

With France still deeply on edge after a spate of terror attacks in Paris in January killed 17 people, French officials tried to assure people that terrorism seemed a highly unlikely cause for Tuesday’s crash, in part because the plane did not explode in the air. Still, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the RTL network, “all hypotheses must be considered, as long as the investigation has not yielded any results.”

Read next: Germanwings Flights Disrupted as Some Crew Refuse to Fly After Crash

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TIME ebola

The Red Cross: ‘Ebola Started In Silence and Will End With Our Words’

Leaders of the Red Cross reflect on the year of Ebola

A year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the mysterious disease that had earlier swept through the tiny village of Meliandou, in Guinea’s southern forested region, had been identified as a “rapidly evolving outbreak” of Ebola, affecting several districts of the country and its capital, Conakry.

Suspected cases were also being investigated in border areas of neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ebola had started to become an emergency.

Last month, our thoughts turned to another place in Guinea: the town of Forécariah at the other end of the country, in the west. Two Red Cross volunteers had been attacked there while attempting to provide “safe and dignified burials.”

Probably the single most-important factor in driving down cases over the past year has been a reduction in unsafe burial practices in which the still-contagious bodies of the deceased are handled by bereaved relatives. Unsafe practices still continue, however, in many places.

In Guinea, Red Cross personnel have faced an average of ten verbal or physical assaults a month; Liberia and Sierra Leone have also reported some form of “refusal to comply” with public-health measures.

Our words, our actions

In the Ebola hotspot of Kono, Sierra Leone, and according to local data, many communities still prefer traditional funerals to safer alternatives.

Most medical equipment we need to stop the outbreak is now in place, and yet new cases are still occurring, particularly in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

We need more than just medical hardware to get to zero cases. Now our words must pave the way to the last mile.

Words to break the stigma against healthcare workers and survivors, words to educate communities on prevention, words of solidarity from all over the world to say to affected people and communities: We won’t let you down, and together we can end Ebola.

We are trying to change behaviors and practices, and learning along the way that the transmission of knowledge is not enough.

Let’s use the power of words to repair misconceptions, promote dialogue, heal, reconcile and engage to overcome resistance, facilitate behavioural change, and ultimately get us to zero new cases.

Let’s do it fast: the rainy season will soon be upon us, and some areas could become very difficult to access. There is still work to do, and time is of the essence.

Adapting our response

We will not just treat our way out of this disease.

In Liberia, most people – local data suggests as many as 70 percent – believe all that’s required to ward off Ebola is to refrain from eating bush meat, rather than avoiding contact with the bodily fluids of patients.

In one district surveyed by the Red Cross in Sierra Leone, 90 percent believed this, although nationwide there has been a significant increase in safe burials.

It’s easy to imagine how health-workers in full protective garb, looking like creatures from a nightmare, spraying homes with foul-smelling chlorine, might appear to isolated villagers.

There has also been miscommunication. The black body bags our volunteers and staff were using in some communities were rejected by bereaved people for whom tradition dictates that bodies should be wrapped in white, signifying respect – a vitally important word in the context of funeral rites.

We may not have listened quite as carefully to local people as we should have at the beginning. The black bags were replaced with white ones.

Walking the right path

On the Ebola response overall, the road is forking. Down one path – characterized by sustained international solidarity and yet further heroism by local volunteers and health workers – lie zero cases, stronger health systems, and eventual recovery from the wounds Ebola has inflicted on human societies.

But if complacency or fatigue marks the other path, we may find ourselves dealing with a silent disaster that will threaten the gains already made as well as recovery.

We in the Red Cross Red Crescent warn that complacency is the enemy; but we believe we are not helpless in the face of Ebola. Our words and our actions will make a difference. They will pave the last mile back to trust and resilience.

Elhadj As Sy is Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, responding to Ebola in 16 African nations; Yves Daccord is General Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has long been present in the region, particular Liberia and Guinea, due to past conflicts.

TIME Tunisia

Watch the Moments Before the Tunisia Museum Attack

Tourists flee when they hear gunshots

A tourist has released a video showing the moments before the attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunisia last week. The video, taken by Italian tourist Maria Tira Gelotti, shows a group of tourists exploring the museum in Tunisia’s capital Tunis when they hear gunshots and realize it is under attack.

“Did they shoot? Did they shoot?” a woman asks in Italian. The group flees when they hear a second round of automatic gunfire.

The attack killed 20 tourists. At least two gunmen opened fire after getting off buses at the museum inside the parliament compound. Both were later shot dead by police, and authorities say they are still searching for a third suspect.

The Bardo Museum held a ceremonial reopening Tuesday.

[NBC]

Read next: Deadly Museum Attack Highlights Tunisia’s Internal Struggles

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