Obama’s Kurds Announce Start of Operation To Liberate Raqqa

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian forces announced their plan Sunday to retake the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, saying they hoped Turkey would not “interfere in internal Syrian affairs.”

The announcement by the Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Christian forces, was made Sunday at a press conference in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa, attended by commanders and spokespeople for the group. An official who read a statement said the operation to liberate Raqqa, dubbed the “Euphrates Rage” operation, had officially begun.

The statement said that 30,000 fighters will take part in the operation.

The announcement comes as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces had entered the eastern edges of the IS-held city of Mosul and were working to push deeper into the last IS urban bastion in Iraq. But the Kurdish officials said the two campaigns were not coordinated, but simply “good timing.”

The SDF is dominated by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The United States considers the group as the most effective force against the IS, but Turkey views them as a terror organization and claims it’s linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish group. Turkish officials including President Recep Tayip Erdogan have said they will not accept a role for the Kurds in the liberation of Raqqa.

Turkey’s defense minister last week suggested that instead of the Kurds, Turkish-backed forces can present an “alternative.”

But Kurdish officials have rejected any role for Turkey, or the opposition forces it backs inside Syria, in the Raqqa campaign, and U.S. officials have also acknowledged that the YPG will be a major part of any Raqqa offensive.

“Our hope is that the Turkish state will not interfere in the internal affairs of Syria,” said an unidentified SDF official at Sunday’s press conference. “Raqqa will be free by its own sons.”

There was no immediate comment from Turkey or the U.S. on the Kurdish announcement.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that ousting IS from Raqqa poses tougher political challenges than the offensive on Mosul, and have suggested the initial stage would involve isolating the city before any forces try to move in.

The commander of anti-IS coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said last week that American intelligence has detected signs that Islamic State attacks against Western targets are being plotted from Raqqa, adding urgency to coalition plans to encircle and eventually assault the city.

“We know this plot-and-planning is emanating from Raqqa. We think we’ve got to get to Raqqa pretty soon.”

But coalition leaders have been struggling with the timing for the Raqqa campaign, not only because of the demands of the large Iraqi-led Mosul operation but also because the political and military landscape in Syria is more complicated. Townsend said more Syrian opposition fighters need to be recruited, trained and equipped for the Raqqa battle, but he and other officials have said in recent days that the Mosul and Raqqa operations will overlap.

Unlike in Iraq, where the coalition has a coherent government to work with, the U.S. and its coalition partners in Syria are relying on a hodge-podge of local Arab and Kurdish opposition groups, some of whom are fierce rivals. The tensions are exacerbated by the presence of Russian and Syrian forces on one side and Turkish forces on another.

Townsend said, however, that the YPG will necessarily be part of the offensive.

“The facts are these: The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” Townsend said. “So, we’re negotiating, we’re planning, we’re having talks with Turkey and we’re gonna take this in steps.”

Associated Press


Pacifism in the Face of Perpetual War

Hacksaw Ridge: Pacifism or Just War Theory?


Hacksaw-Ridge-new-posterSay what you want about him, but Mel Gibson does not go halfway. The 60-year old director, who has one more Best Directing Oscar than Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Robert Altman, and Spike Lee, has shown in films like The Passion of the Christ (2004), Braveheart (1995), and Apocalypto (2006) that he has the courage of his convictions and vision. Such intentional conviction makes the end of Hacksaw Ridge (2016) a bit of a headscratcher when the vision goes from courageous defense to inspirational slaughter.

The film, about real-life conscientious objector Desmond Doss, has a classic 3-act structure, beginning with Doss’ upbringing in rural Virginia, followed by his enlistment and training in the army as a medic, and ending with the battle of Okinawa. At various times the film brings to mind Sergeant York (1941) when it wrestles with the biblical prohibition against killing, Forrest Gump (1994) when it shows a simple-minded man who’s in love and who’s got to save Bubba (or in Doss’ case, just one more wounded man), and Saving Private Ryan (1998) when it shows the horrors of war.

The central tension in the film is over whether or not it is morally permissible to take up arms, even in defense. World War II is often held up as the ultimate modern example of when war is necessary. Doss’ argument against picking up a rifle is that the Bible says ‘Do not kill’ (the 6th commandment) and he figures he is doing his part to serve his country by helping care for those who are wounded. He doesn’t judge anyone else for fighting and killing, but that doesn’t make it easy for him around men who feel judged by his moral stance, and it certainly doesn’t make it easy when enemy soldiers are running towards him and all he has is a medic bag and a helmet.

In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, building on the Apostle Paul and Augustine, postulated three main criteria for a just war: First, just war must be initiated and waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.  Second, war must be fought for a good and just purpose rather than for money, new land, or power. Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. Just war theorists typically add the ideas of war as last resort, comparative justice, probability of success, and proportionality of expected benefits weighed against expected harm. Of course, for Christians who are not pacifists, any just war theory starts with the assumption that the best interpretation of the 6th commandment is a prohibition against murder and that it does not contradict the power of the sword to punish evildoers and wage war that is given to the state by God (Genesis 9:6, Romans 13:1-4).

Mel Gibson, of course, is religious and even if we didn’t know that about him personally, we would be able to tell from this film’s direction that the filmmaker is on the side of his religious protagonist. One scene in particular makes this abundantly clear, when Doss is being lowered down from the ridge on a stretcher while the camera cranes below him, giving us the feeling of his being lifted to heaven, a Christ figure having obeyed the Father and given up his life for his friends.

The biggest problem here is that the film seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, it shows the beauty of pacifism, and that it takes real courage to resist violence. But, on the other hand, there is a scene near the end of the film where Doss’ courage is the very fuel that drives his fellow soldiers to finally finish of their Japanese enemies, a scene that is played with the same passion and bloodlust that we saw when righteous William Wallace united the clans in battle against evil Edward the Longshank’s army.

But maybe, at the end of the day, that’s just the personal contradiction that Doss had to live with and that Gibson is showing us: how can a man work for an army that is waging war while being against war? A pacifist necessarily takes the view that no war is just, but if you help a nation win a war, whether or not you personally eschew violence, you’ve lent your support to the cause of a nation at war and to the just war theory, whether you intend to or not.

Francois Truffaut has been quoted by Roger Ebert as saying “There is no such thing as an anti-war film,” because it’s almost impossible to keep from having a hero in a war film and thus to make certain aspects of war inherently appealing, particularly in cinematic imagery and storytelling. Whether or not Truffaut actually said that, Gibson’s film certainly is Exhibit A of that theory. Maybe making an anti-war film wasn’t Gibson’s intent, however, and at the end of the day, I am grateful for this picture of courage and love in the face of great obstacles and real persecution (particularly because it really happened!).

It’s hard to read the Bible and not see that it is occasionally necessary to take up arms, whether in self-defense or in defense of another. However, it is equally difficult to read the Bible and not see that one of the defining characteristics of God’s people ought to be peacemaking. We live in a world where violence is necessary, and yet we long for a world where swords (and machine guns) will be turned into plowshares.

Taliban Wouldn’t Last More Than A Month w/Out Pakistan’s Help—Afg. MoD

Taliban to be eliminated in a month, regional intelligence fueling war: MoD


By Khaama Press

https://i2.wp.com/www.khaama.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Afghan-defense-ministry.jpgThe Ministry of Defense of Afghanistan (MoD) has said the elimination of the Taliban group fighters will not take more than a month but the regional intelligence fueling the Afghan war by supporting the anti-government armed militants.

MoD spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri told reporters in Kabul that the ongoing war and violence in the country is an intelligence war, insisting that the Taliban resistance would not last more than a month if the group would wage insurgency alone.

He did not elaborate further regarding any specific regional intelligence agency but the Afghan officials have long been criticizing Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence for supporting the Afghan militants.

The Afghan officials are saying that the leadership group of the Taliban and other militant groups including the Haqqani terrorist network are based in Pakistan and are openly convening gatherings besides planning and coordinating attacks in Afghanistan.

In the meantime, Gen. Waziri said the Afghan forces recently seized a vehicle packed with hundreds of weapons, thousands of ammunition and explosives as the militants were looking to transport it to equip their fighters.

He said the Afghan forces confiscated 430 Pakistani weapons including pistols and 23,800 rounds of ammunition in Badghis province.

Gen. Waziri appeared in a press conference to update the media following a deadly clash in Kunduz on Thursday that left around 30 civilians dead.

Blaming the Taliban group for the civilian casualties, Gen. Waziri said the group continues to use the civilians as human shield and the group’s leaders and fighters are even reckless regarding their own family members.

According to Waziri, several family members of the Taliban group leaders were among those killed as the Afghan forces called for air support amid fierce clash.

The operation on Thursday was launched as the Taliban group leaders had gathered for a meeting to launch a fresh attack on Kunduz city.

Iran’s Chabahar Port—Is Peace Through Commerce A Rational Concept?

[In a world where war prevails, it is understandable that we do not yet know whether it is peace which makes commerce possible, or it is improved commerce that creates the necessary conditions for peace.  Building a billion dollar port facility like Chabahar, on the belief in the not yet seen is commendable, but it is foolish, given the current status of the war next door.  If better commerce really creates a popular demand for peace, then Chabahar may bring peace to Afghanistan…sure it will.]

[Why Chabahar deal is a rebellion against history]

Iran’s Chabahar Port Of Vital Importance For Afghanistan: Minister


Chabahar Port

Afghanistan’s Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mahmoud Balighi said Iran’s Chabahar port was of critical importance for his country.

Speaking to IRNA on Sunday, he said: “The port which is situated in southeastern Iran is of very vital significance for Afghanistan and regional trade.”

He also said the planned five-party railway link is also important for Afghanistan as it passes through Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China and then travels to Turkey thus connecting all these countries to Europe.

He said the railway which will run for 1,100 km inside Afghanistan will further facilitate access of Afghan businessmen to Chabahar port.

Balighi said the countries involved in the railway network have already signed an agreement to this effect.

Since Afghanistan is a landlocked territory, the minister added, the government is determined to use the railway networks to gain access to international waters.

“That is why Iran’s Chabahar port is strategically very important for Afghanistan because the tri-lateral contract signed by Iran, Afghanistan and India will help boost trade exchanges,” he added.

In May, Tehran, New Delhi and Afghanistan signed an epoch-making agreement in Tehran to establish a transit and transportation corridor.

The agreement known as Chabahar Trilateral Agreement was signed by the three countries’ officials in the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tehran.

The trilateral Chabahar agreement will considerably increase making use of Chabahar port that will connect India to Central Asia through Afghanistan and instead will provide Afghanistan’s access to India via sea.

Iraqi Liberation Forces Meet Mosul’s Wall of Innocent Civilians


Iraq’s special forces struggled Sunday to clear areas retaken from Daesh along Mosul’s eastern edge, where the extremists have built up fortifications and ramparts in residential neighborhoods.

The slowdown highlights the challenges ahead for Iraqi forces as they press into more populated areas deeper in the city — where the civilian presence means they won’t be able to rely as much on airstrikes.

“There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them,” said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi.

“This is one of the hardest battles that we’ve faced till now,” he said.

Some civilians are fleeing the combat zone, while Daesh militants are holding others back for use as human shields, making it harder for Iraqi commanders on the ground to get approval for requests for U.S-led coalition air strikes.

Iraq’s special forces are some of the country’s best troops, but they still largely rely on air support to clear terrain.

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city on Tuesday. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have only advanced just over a kilometer into the city. On the city’s southern front Iraqi forces are still some 20 kilometers from the city center.

The extremists captured the city in 2014, and have had plenty of time to erect fortifications. Trenches and berms have turned the streets and alleyways of a neighborhood once named after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into a maze, and concrete blast walls have blocked off access to other areas.

“Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs,” said al-Timimi.

Daesh fought back Saturday, pushing the special forces from the southern edge of the Gogjali neighborhood, where the troops had made their first major foray into the city itself after more than two weeks of fighting in its rural outskirts.

Both sides fired mortar rounds and automatic weapons, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Snipers dueled from rooftops in residential areas, where most buildings are just two stories high.

In what was likely a flare up of related violence closer to the capital, Baghdad, a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden car during rush hour Sunday morning into a checkpoint in Salahuddin province, killing at least nine people.

Five female students, a woman and three policemen were killed in the attack at the southern entrance of the provincial capital, Tikrit, provincial spokesman of Ali al-Hamdani said. He added that 25 other people were wounded.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of Daesh — which has conducted and claimed dozens of similar bombings.

In April 2015, Iraqi security forces drove out Daesh militants from Tikrit, about 130 kilometers north of Baghdad.