Kurds Will/Won’t Fight In Western Operation To Liberate Raqqa


YPG forces in Syria

[Kurds ‘will not to take part in Syria’s Raqqah assault’–Qatar news]

[Pentagon could misinform Trump about Syrian Kurds: Turkey FM]

[US generals playing dangerous game in Syria]

US general: Kurds to participate in Raqqa operation


Gen. Stephen Townsend


US-led anti-Daesh coalition chief Stephen Townsend says YPG leaders have told him ‘they have no desire to attack Turkey’

Kurdish forces will likely participate in the liberation of Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital “in one form or fashion”, the general in charge of the U.S.-led coalition said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters via video link from Baghdad, Iraq, Gen. Stephen Townsend said “Kurds will participate in the operation.”

“The facts are there are Kurds from Raqqa, and larger Raqqa district and province,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re going to change the demographics of Raqqah by Kurds or Turkomen or any group participating in the operation. But I expect that probably all types of Syrians in northern Syria will participate in the liberation of Raqqah,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters could lead the Raqqah offensive.

Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed PKK group. Turkey, the U.S., and EU have designated the PKK as a terror group, and it resumed its decades-old armed campaign in July 2015.

Washington has refrained from similarly labeling the YPG, and has relied on the group as its principal on the ground partner in Syria to Ankara’s consternation.

Seeking to allay Turkish concerns about the YPG, Townsend said he’s been assured by the group’s leaders that “they have no desire to attack Turkey.”

“They desire to have a good working relationship with Turkey and I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to or supported any attacks on Turkey from northern Syria over the last two years,” he said.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria where the SDF has ousted Deash from successive towns and villages with coalition air support, training and advisors.

Townsend said he believes the SDF will lead the Raqqah operation, but stressed that no final decision has been made.

If the SDF is to lead to lead the charge, Townsend said they “will probably need additional combat power”.

“But those decisions have yet to be taken,” he said.

Responding to claims that pictures posted by U.S. Central Command (Centcom) depict child soldiers in the ranks of the SDF, Townsend maintained that the coalition does not “allow child fighters, underage fighters”.

And as the general was speaking to reporters, Centcom wrote on Twitter that “All partner nation trainees are vetted through an interview process, including age.”

“Those not willing to provide assurances to this vetting process are disqualified,” the Middle East command added.

Townsend confirmed that Russian and Syrian airstrikes hit Arab components of the SDF on Tuesday outside of al-Bab, the city Turkish-backed forces recently liberated from Daesh in northern Syria.

The aircraft thought the areas “were held by ISIS”, but Syrian Arab fighters that are part of the SDF had recently moved into the targeted villages that were recently vacated by Daesh, Townsend said.

The American general did not detail casualties beyond confirming that some had occurred before the air raids were halted through a U.S.-Russian channel meant to prevent accidental clashes.

U.S. forces were about five kilometers away, Townsend said.

Trump’s Next 20 Airstrikes Upon Yemen

20 US strikes target AQAP, 9 militants dead

arab news




WASHINGTON: US forces on Thursday conducted a series of airstrikes in Yemen against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Pentagon said.
“More than 20 strikes targeted AQAP militants, equipment and infrastructure in the Yemeni governorates of Abyan, Baida and Shabwa,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.
“The strikes were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen, and were coordinated with President (Abed Rabbo Mansour) Hadi.” The strikes come barely a month after a controversial American commando raid against the terrorists that left multiple civilians dead and killed a US Navy SEAL.
The US military did not estimate the number of militants killed in the strikes, but residents and local officials in southern Yemen said that at least nine suspected Al-Qaeda militants died in two separate incidents.
They said four men believed to belong to Al-Qaeda died in a strike on a building in Al-Saeed, an area of Shabwa province home to the Al-Awaleq, the extended clan of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a militant and US citizen killed in by US drone in 2011.
Another five suspected Al-Qaeda fighters died when a missile fired by a drone struck a vehicle carrying weapons while traveling on a road between Al-Wadie and Moujan, according to a local official.

Saudi Arabia Buying Maldives’ Island For Islamist Training Facility?

[Maldives: ‘Pro-Israel President booted out’]

[The Indian Art of Turning Jihadis Into Anti-Jihadis and the War On Pakistan]

Bombers from the Maldives

“[Saudi Arabia] Is Also Thinking Of Building A Base Consisting Of Three Islands In The Maldives And [Will Be Helped By] Pakistani Workers And High Officials”

“The Urdu daily notes that Saudi Arabia “is also thinking of building a base consisting of three islands in the Maldives and [will be helped by] Pakistani workers and high officials. Earlier, India had announced [its intention] to give 1.5 billion dollars to establish a big base on these islands. However, differences emerged between India and the Maldives on this agreement and later Saudi Arabia announced it was giving five billion dollars after the agreement. It not only gave support to the Maldivian economy but scholarships have also been granted to 50 students there, both girls and boys, who will go to Saudi Arabia for higher studies.

“Besides, ten big masajid and madaris [mosques and religious schools] would also be set up in the Maldives and all their expenses would be paid by the Saudi government. The Saudi government would get manpower for these projects from Pakistan.”

Source: Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), April 3, 2014.

Will Saudi Arabia Purchase an Entire Atoll From the Maldives?

[Maldives plan to sell atoll to Saudi Arabia has India worried]

the diplomat


Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, king of Saudi Arabia, is on a rare tour this month to six Asian countries — Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, and the Maldives. Over at Al Jazeera earlier this week, I had a longer look at the geopolitical and geoeconomic impulses driving Saudi outreach to these six countries. I discuss Saudi interests in the above countries in detail, but want to dig in a bit deeper into the Maldives, which geographically and economically is a bit of the odd-one-out destination on Salman’s itinerary.

Regular readers of The Diplomat might have read my reflections over the past few years on Male’s steady democratic disintegration under the leadership of Abdulla Yameen. The watershed moment that marked a negative inflection point for liberal-minded democracy in the small archipelagic Indian Ocean nation was the early 2015 arrest and sham trial of Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader.

Outside of its democratic decline, the Maldives also occupies an ignominious place as one of the largest contributors on a per capita basis of foreign fighters to the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Currently only surpassed by Tunisia, radicalization and extremism in the Maldives has become more of a concern in recent years for neighboring states like India.

So, what’s going on with Saudi Arabia and the Maldives and how does Riyadh fit into all this?

Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi religious movement has seeped into the Maldives over the years. One of the pathways by which this occurred has to do with the extent of people-to-people ties between Maldives and Pakistan, South Asia’s largest Muslim-majority country. Maldivian Islamic clerics and students have, over the years, been gradually exposed to Wahhabi ideology, which has come to shape both the island’s politics and even identity in recent years.

In 2015 — the same year the Saudis set up their first diplomatic mission in the country — Maldives and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on religious cooperation, with Saudi financing guaranteed for ongoing mosque construction projects in the country. Maldives additionally is part of Saudi Arabia’s so-called Islamic Military Alliance, which was declared last year to unite Muslim-majority countries against the Islamic State. For Male, cozying up to Saudi Arabia is especially attractive as relations with New Delhi — the most proximal regional power — have soured since its democratic downturn. China, similarly, has been another partner of interest for the Maldivians.

Given how rare royal Saudi visits are — Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation is seeing its first royal visit in 47 years — it’s remarkable that Male sees its first just within two years of Riyadh setting up a diplomatic mission. All this underlines just how quickly the Saudi-Maldivian bilateral relationship has progressed. King Salman’s interest in the small island state was seen before he ascended the throne after King Abudllah’s death; he visited the Maldives in 2014.

Salman’s objectives in Male this March will be worth watching closely. As I discuss in the Al Jazeera article, this six-country tour is largely animated by Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Plan, which seeks to upend the country’s oil-dependent economic model. To this end, Saudi Arabia is reportedly looking to effectively purchase, via a 99-year lease, a Maldivian atoll — the Faafu Atoll specifically, currently a Maldivian administrative division. The sale is speculated to involve a forced relocation of the 4,000-some people currently living there. The Saudis would then develop the atoll, presumably exploring revenue-generating projects in tourism and even maritime commerce.

So, while the larger and more economically significant countries on Salman’s Asia tour may draw more attention, the Maldives isn’t a mere sideshow. For both Riyadh and Male, the visit will be an opportunity to seal-in important quid pro quos and elevate this fast-converging bilateral relationship.