Taliban Parade In Afghanistan

Taliban parades large convoy in Sangin

 

 

The Taliban paraded a large convoy of fighters into the district center of Sangin in Helmand province just one month after Resolute Support denied Afghan forces were defeated there. The Taliban force operated openly in the daylight without fear of being targeted by US or Afghan airstrikes.

The Taliban video, simply entitled “Sangin,” was released on Voice of Jihad on May 6. An English-speaking Taliban member narrated the video. When shown, his face is blotted out. According to the Taliban, the video “contains information about the strategic district of Sangin, its conquest by the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate, barbarity by the foreign forces and the hirelings [Afghan security forces] and the reopening of the bazaar on the first day of the new blessed campaign ‘Operation Mansouri.’ ”

The video showed scores of vehicles, including several US-made Humvees, laden with Taliban fighters entering Sangin’s district center. The Taliban fighters were greeted by hundreds if not thousands of Afghans, while Taliban flags waved throughout the town. A large banner announcing Operation Mansouri, the group’s newly announced spring offensive, is hanging at the entrance to the town.

According to the Taliban, key buildings in the town, including a hospital, were destroyed during US airstrikes on March 22. The Taliban claimed it rebuilt and reopened the bazaar for the commencement of Operation Mansouri, which was announced on April 28.

The Taliban seized Sangin’s district center on March 22 after surrounding it for several months, and hailed its capture as an important victory. US and Afghan warplanes bombed Sangin’s district center after airlifting the remaining forces during the dead of night.

Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, denied that the Taliban overran Sangin, and instead claimed it relocated the district center several kilometers from the original site. In a statement that clumsily attempted to salvage the loss of Sangin’s district center, Resolute Support said that “the only thing they left to the Taliban is rubble and dirt.”

The Taliban video told a different story. While some buildings appeared heavily damaged, and the Taliban attempted to use this damage as propaganda to portray the “barbarity” of US and Afghan forces, much of Sangin remained intact.

Additionally, the Taliban video showed that more than a month after Afghan forces lost Sangin, and despite the relocation of the “new” district center just kilometers away, the Taliban can still flaunt a large force with little fear of reprisal.

For more information the Taliban takeover of Sangin, see the following reports from FDD’s Long War Journal: Taliban takes key district in Helmand province, Resolute Support spins loss of Sangin district center as a victory, and Capturing Sangin an ‘important victory,’ Taliban says

Images from the Taliban video “Sangin”

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Turkey may hit YPG in Syria ‘all of a sudden’–President Erdoğan

Turkey may hit YPG in Syria ‘all of a sudden’: President Erdoğan

 

 

 

ISTANBUL

 

Ankara is gravely concerned by photos of U.S. soldiers attending the funerals of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants, who it says are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the wake of Turkish air strikes on the two groups, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.

“We may come [to strike the YPG] overnight, all of a sudden without warning,” Erdoğan told reporters at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport before leaving for a two-day visit to India.

“We are seriously concerned to see U.S. flags in a convoy that has YPG rags on it. We will mention these issues to President [Donald Trump] during our visit to the United States on May 16,” he added.

Erdoğan was asked about photos said to show U.S. soldiers patrolling along the Turkish border and attending the funerals of the YPG militants apparently killed in Turkish air strikes.

“If we are against global terrorism, then we need to tell them [U.S.] about these issues. If we do not work together against terrorism, then tomorrow it will strike at another ally,” he added.

Erdoğan vowed that Turkey will continue operations against the PKK and the YPG, similar to strikes earlier this week on Mt. Sinjar in northern Iraq and Syria’s Mt. Karaçok.

Forty militants were killed at Iraq’s Mt. Sinjar and another 49 at Syria’s Mt. Karacok in April 25 airstrikes by Turkish forces against the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing the YPG.

The Turkish military said the strikes, which local governments as well as the U.S. and Russia were notified about in advance, were intended to prevent the PKK from sending terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives to Turkey.

The military killed 14 members of the PKK in air strikes in northern Iraq on April 29, it said in a statement. Six militants were killed around the area of Sinat-Haftan and eight in the countryside around Adiyaman in two separate air strikes, the military stated.

U.S. troops have been seen patrolling the tense border since the Turkish strikes.

“We will be forced to continue [our offensives]. We won’t provide a date and time for when we’ll come. But they will know that the Turkish military can come at any moment,” Erdoğan said.

Tensions rose on April 29 along the Turkish-Syrian border as Ankara also moved armored vehicles to the region.

Media reports said the convoy was heading to southeastern Şanlırufa province from Kilis in the west. The base in the area is 50 kilometers from Syria’s Tal Abyad, a town controlled by the PYD.

More U.S. troops were seen on April in armored vehicles in Syria in the YPG-controlled areas. PYD officials describe the U.S. troop movement as “buffer” between them and Turkey.

The YPG issue has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington for a long time. Instead of working with the PYD, Turkey is pressing the U.S. to let its army join the campaign for Raqqa, ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital.

Erdoğan is due in Washington on May 16 for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Let us, the U.S., all these coalition powers, and Turkey, join hands to turn Raqqa into Daesh’s grave,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL, saying that Turkey is at present leading the “most effective campaign against ISIL.”

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Turkish Airstrikes On Trump’s Kurds/US Troops Dangerous Close

Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units, a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party, stand in the village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq, April 29, 2016. (photo by REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

 

Tensions between Turkey and the United States are poised to escalate after the Turkish air force carried out a series of pre-dawn strikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeastern Syria, killing foes and friends alike, with potentially disruptive effects on the war against the Islamic State.

Expect US-Turkey tensions to rise after the Turkish air force attacked Kurdish militants in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeastern Syria just as the US-led coalition presses its offensive against IS in Raqqa.

Five peshmerga fighters attached to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey’s closest regional ally, perished in the airstrikes on Mount Sinjar. At least 20 fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the US-led coalition’s top ally in the fight against the jihadis in Syria, were killed when Turkish jets hit their headquarters in Mount Qarachok near the town of al-Malikiyah, known as Derik in Kurdish. A building housing a local radio station was also destroyed in the attack.

The strikes come at an especially critical moment, as the US-led coalition presses its offensive against IS in Raqqa.

Officials from the US-led coalition familiar with the details of the strikes said Turkish officials had informed the United States of its plans before they were executed. The officials told Al-Monitor on strict condition that they not be identified that Turkey had sought to coordinate the strikes with the Qatar-based Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), which controls and commands the air campaigns in Syria and Iraq, among others, with US allies. According to one of the officials, “CAOC turned them down.” Turkey went ahead with the strikes anyway.

A Central Command spokesman responding to Al-Monitor’s queries via email said, “The Coalition is aware of the Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq and Syria. As we’ve said in the past, all of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. We encourage all forces to remain focused on the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security and concentrate their efforts on [IS] and not toward objectives that may cause the Coalition to divert energy and resources away from the defeat of [IS] in Iraq and Syria.”

A Syrian Kurdish official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity an unspecified number of US special forces had been “uncomfortably close” to Qarachok when the Turkish jets struck.

A coalition official corroborated this version but declined to elaborate. This suggests that Turkey may have not properly implemented de-confliction measures agreed with the coalition designed to allow allied forces ample time to move out of harm’s way. The peshmerga casualties in Sinjar also point to flawed intelligence on the Turkish side.

A commander with the YPG-led Syrian Defense Forces blamed US President Donald Trump for the Turkish attacks. “If Trump had not telephoned [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and congratulated him and then invited him to Washington, Turkey would have never felt emboldened to behave in a manner that hurts us and hurts the US fight against [IS],” the SDF commander said in an interview via WhatsApp.

The commander was referring to the April 17 phone call Trump made to Turkey’s president to congratulate him a day after he narrowly won a referendum giving him unprecedented powers that his critics say amount to one-man rule.

Many administration officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in the room with Trump during the exchange, are said to have been opposed to giving the Turkish leader carte blanche, especially since international monitors said it was riddled with irregularities. The consensus among administration officials was that Erodgan’s burning desire for a US stamp of approval legitimizing this contested outcome could have been leveraged for pledges of greater cooperation, notably in Syria. The opportunity was squandered and Erdogan is due to be received by Trump in Washington on May 16.

After today’s strikes the mood is even darker and there is strong pressure on the White House from the administration and Syrian Kurdish officials for a public denunciation of Turkey’s actions. “The United States must take a clear stand against Turkish aggression,” said Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Democratic Syrian Council. “We are fighting against [IS] with the United States and Turkey is hitting us from behind, giving [IS] more oxygen,” she fumed in a telephone interview with Al-Monitor. “We demand that the United States establish a no-fly zone to protect us against further aggression.”

In a show of solidarity, US forces based in northern Syria inspected the fallout in Qarachok. But it will not be enough to appease Kurdish worries over further Turkish attacks.

The Turkish General Staff justified its actions in a statement today, saying they were intended to prevent members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from funneling “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives to Turkey.” The PKK has been waging a bloody insurgency for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984 and is closely linked with the YPG, which reveres imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan as its leader as well. Turkey sees no difference between the two groups, labeling both terrorists and demanding that the United States ditch its alliance with the YPG.

The United States has tried to maintain a precarious juggling act of humoring Turkey, a critical NATO ally and home to the Incirlik Air Base vital to US operations throughout the region, while maintaining its military partnership with the Syrian Kurds.

Washington justifies its position on the grounds that although the PKK is on its list of terrorist organizations, the YPG is not. The United States is thus able to continue to arm and train YPG fighters while providing Turkey with real-time intelligence on the PKK. Turkey says it’s had enough of US duplicity as it sees it and has been threatening to take matters into its own hands.

Nicholas A Heras, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, described Turkish thinking to Al-Monitor: “The Turkish military, like the Americans, has decided that it will aggressively target what it views to be the lines of supply and reinforcement for the PKK between eastern Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Derik in Syria has been long viewed by the Turkish military as a key refuge city for the PKK network, and Sinjar and its surrounding area a forward operating base for the PKK to target the Turkish forces deployed or soon to be deployed in northwest Iraq around Mosul.”

Heras added, “The Turkish military is sending the message that its war against the PKK does not stop at Turkey’s borders, and that there will be no refuge for the PKK anywhere.”

Turkey is also worried about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria and insists that the PKK and Shiite militias are acting in concert to cement this. These concerns are shared by the KRG and particularly by Massoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and were reflected in the KRG’s statement on the airstrikes. It called the airstrikes “painful and unacceptable” but much of its ire was focused on the PKK, calling the attacks a result of its presence in Sinjar. “The PKK has been problematic for the people of the Kurdistan Region and, despite broad calls to withdraw, refuses to leave Sinjar,” the statement read. The PKK and its Yazidi affiliates have controlled parts of Sinjar ever since the PKK and YPG fighters intervened to rescue thousands of Yazidis facing imminent slaughter by IS in August 2014.

Barzani enjoys unusually warm ties with Erdogan and is said to have urged his supporters in Turkey to vote in favor of the referendum.

Turkey’s strongman gave the KRG’s moves toward independence one of its biggest boosts when he allowed the Iraqi Kurds to export their oil independently of Baghdad via a pipeline running to export terminals on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

The move further soured relations between Turkey and the central government in Baghdad. These dipped to an all-time low when Turkey moved hundreds of its special forces to a base near the town of Bashiqa northwest of Mosul in December 2015.

Turkey insists that its men are there to train Sunni Arab fighters taking part in the battle for Mosul and to defend Sunni Turkmens in the IS-held town of Tal Afar from possible retaliatory attacks by Shiite militias. But the main reason for their presence, Turkish officials acknowledge, is to scuttle Iran and the PKK’s alleged plans to establish a corridor running from the PKK’s bases straddling the Iran-Iraq border via Sinjar and all the way onto Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

None of this washes with Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is being accused of weakness in the face of Iraq’s erstwhile Ottoman potentates.

Abbas Kadhim, a senior policy fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Al-Monitor, “Turkish-Iraq relations have witnessed great tension since the IS capture of Mosul. The Turkish troops in Bashiqa, the IS fighters’ passage through Turkey, Turkey’s hosting of several anti-Iraqi government events and the continued hostile statements by Turkish officials toward Iraq have pushed the bilateral relations to high levels of tension.”

In the wake of today’s strikes, “Abadi will be in a very hard position and will have to show that he cannot tolerate this continued Turkish hostility,” Kadhim noted. “He tried several times to reconcile with Turkey, but every new hostility opens old and new cases and makes his task harder.”

Trump/McMaster Breakup In the Works?

Washington Loves General McMaster, But Trump Doesn’t

The national security adviser has lost sway. The White House says everything’s fine.

May 8, 2017, 10:44 AM EDT
In happier times…  Photographer: Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

For the Washington establishment, President Donald Trump’s decision to make General H.R. McMaster his national security adviser in February was a masterstroke. Here is a well-respected defense intellectual, praised by both parties, lending a steady hand to a chaotic White House. The grown-ups are back.

But inside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff.

On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is blocking McMaster on a key appointment.

McMaster’s allies and adversaries inside the White House tell me that Trump is disillusioned with him. This professional military officer has failed to read the president  — by not giving him a chance to ask questions during briefings, at times even lecturing Trump.

Presented with the evidence of this buyer’s remorse, the White House on Sunday evening issued a statement from Trump: “I couldn’t be happier with H.R. He’s doing a terrific job.”

Other White House officials however tell me this is not the sentiment the president has expressed recently in private. Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president’s threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.

This was not an isolated incident. Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about “the general undermining my policy,” according to two White House officials. The president has given McMaster less face time. McMaster’s requests to brief the president before some press interviews have been declined. Over the weekend, McMaster did not accompany Trump to meet with Australia’s prime minister; the outgoing deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, attended instead.

Even McMaster’s critics acknowledge that he has professionalized the national security policy process and is a formidable strategist in his own right. Trump credits McMaster with coming up with the plan to strike a Syrian air base last month, which won bipartisan support in Washington.

At the same time, White House officials tell me that in recent weeks, Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster. Last Monday, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who was a finalist for McMaster’s job, met with Trump to discuss a range of issues with the National Security Council. White House officials tell me the two discussed the prospect of Bolton coming in as McMaster’s deputy, but eventually agreed it was not a good fit.

The roots of the McMaster-Trump tensions begin in February, when the general was hired after his first meeting with the president. McMaster replaced another general, Michael Flynn. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Priebus supported getting rid of Flynn, after they alleged he misled his colleagues about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Trump himself has defended Flynn publicly. The two shared a bond from the campaign trail, where they often discussed sports and movies during long evenings on the road. For a president who puts so much value in personal relationships and loyalty, Flynn’s departure was a blow.

In this sense, McMaster came into the job with one strike against him. He has accumulated more. The first conflict between McMaster and Trump was about the major speech the president delivered at the end of February to a joint session of Congress. McMaster pleaded with the president not to use phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He sent memos throughout the government complaining about a draft of that speech that included the phrase. But the phrase remained. When Trump delivered the speech, he echoed his campaign rhetoric by emphasizing each word: “Radical.” “Islamic.” “Terrorism.”

Then Trump’s inner circle began clashing with McMaster over personnel. This began with Ezra Cohen Watnick, who remains the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council. McMaster initially sided with the CIA and wanted to remove this Flynn appointee from his position, but eventually McMaster changed his mind under pressure from Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

That dispute was followed by a bigger one. Bannon and Trump, according to White House officials, pressed McMaster to fire a list of Obama holdovers at the National Security Council who were suspected of leaking to the press. The list of names was compiled by Derek Harvey, a former Defense Intelligence Agency colonel who was initially hired by Flynn. McMaster balked. He refused to fire anyone on the list and asserted that he had the authority to fire and hire National Security Council staff. He also argued that many of these appointees would be ending their rotation at the White House soon enough.

And finally, the White House chief of staff himself blocked McMaster this month from hiring Brigadier General Ricky Waddell as his deputy, complaining that McMaster failed to seek approval for that pick. McMaster had asked his inherited deputy to leave by May 10; she is now expected to stay on for the time being.

For now the White House is saying the president and his national security adviser are in sync. Trump said in his statement to me that he couldn’t be happier with the general. Of course, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway assured the public in February that Trump had full confidence in McMaster’s predecessor. Only a few hours later, he was forced to resign.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

Turkey’s “Free Syrian Army” Battles Obama’s “Free Syrian Army” Near Aleppo

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:00 P.M.) – On Monday, Turkish-backed rebels launched multiple Fagot missiles at a Kurdish trench in the northern countryside of Aleppo, blowing up two bulldozers in the process.

The incident took place south of Azaz and represents an escalation of tensions between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), both of whom are supported by the United States.

At least two Fagot guided missiles struck SDF bulldozers while they were trying erect a new barrier on the axis between Ain Daknah and Sheikh Issa–VIDEO

FSA contingents in the Jarabulus pocket are mostly composed of Turkmen fighters loyal to Ankara while SDF units in the Efrin canton are, for the most part, local Kurds from the YPG.

Earlier today, Turkish proxies also attacked a nearby Kurdish-held village although the assault was foiled and dozens killed consequently.