Heroin and hashish worth close to half a billion dollars has been seized by the Royal Australian Navy in three ships stationed in the Arabian Sea.
Warship HMAS Warramunga seized almost eight tonnes of hashish and 69 kilograms of heroin from three ships between December 27 and 29.
The record haul of drugs, worth around $415 million overall, would have been sent across the globe by the alleged smugglers, the Department of Defence claimed.
Heroin and hashish worth close to half a billion dollars has been seized by the Royal Australian Navy
The huge haul of drugs were seized from three ships stationed in the Arabian Sea
The record haul of drugs, worth around $415 million overall, would have been sent across the globe by the alleged smugglers
‘The operation will impact on the flow of narcotics around the world and the use of drug money to fund extremist organisations,’ the Commander of Australian Forces in the Middle East, Major General John Frewen, said in a statement on Saturday.
‘These drug seizures support Australia’s long-term mission to ensure maritime security and stability in the region,’ he added.
The operation was months in the making, co-ordinated by the Combined Maritime Forces and supported by Australian and Canadian staff.
It’s largest haul of hashish seized by an Australian ship in Middle East maritime security operations.
Warship HMAS Warramunga seized almost eight tonnes of hashish and 69 kilograms of heroin from three ships between December 27 and 29
The Royal Australian Navy worked through the night during the delicate operation
The operation was months in the making, co-ordinated by the Combined Maritime Forces and supported by Australian and Canadian staff
Commanding Officer HMAS Warramunga, Commander Dugald Clelland RAN, said the operation was the result of months of hard work by the ship’s company.
‘The crew prepared extensively for a task like this and we were able to employ our helicopter and boarding crews to locate and board three suspect vessels.
‘A thorough search by the boarding parties uncovered a large quantity of hashish and heroin intended for distribution around the world,’ Commander Clelland said.
The illegal drugs will be disposed at sea at a later date.
The illegal drugs will be disposed at sea at a later date
Amid a week when each new day seems to bring a new homicide in Huntington, Friday will bring a new boost in resources among city, state and federal law enforcement officers.
Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday ordered the West Virginia National Guard to provide more resources to its counter-narcotics program in Huntington to support a more broad patrol of the city and free up more resources among law enforcement agencies in Huntington.
Justice ordered the Guard actions hours after the Huntington Police Department launched its 19th homicide investigation of 2017.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, West Virginia’s adjutant general and head of the state’s National Guard, wouldn’t go as far as to say the support is a “boots on the ground” effort or a deployment of Guardsmen.
Instead, it’s a bump in manpower for the Guard’s counter-narcotics support program, which has been present in the city and helping police there for 20 years, Hoyer said.
“The focus of what the governor wants the Guard to do is what we have done for a number of years, and we are pretty good at — providing that technical support so the law enforcement officers can get out and spend their time doing the law enforcement work that they need to do in greater numbers,” Hoyer said.
The nature of the governor’s order will provide additional National Guard members in Huntington beginning Friday, and their work will include analytical support and some aviation assets, to allow Huntington police officers to patrol West Virginia’s second-largest city from the sky, Hoyer said.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams was hesitant to provide any additional details regarding other types of tactics law enforcement and city, state and federal officials will take in response to the spike in criminal activity.
Williams applauded the teamwork among Huntington police, Marshall University police, the Cabell County Sheriff’s Office, the West Virginia State Police and federal law enforcement officers.
“We’re all aggravated, ticked off and frustrated with what’s happening here,” Williams said. “We’re all committed to make sure we shut it down.”
The homicide rate in Huntington for 2017 is the highest it’s been in three decades. This week alone, there have been five shootings in which six people were shot. Three people died as a result of the wounds they suffered in the shootings.
Prior to Justice’s announcement Thursday, Huntington police Capt. Hank Dial said there was a strong probability that at least two of this week’s shootings are related.
As of Wednesday, police had made arrests in 13 of the homicide cases reported this year. On Thursday, Dial said arrest warrants had been issued for two people involved in a fatal shooting last month.
The sharp increase in homicides in Huntington has been attributed to illegal drug activity and staffing issues with the Huntington Police Department.
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a new year’s greeting that Russia will continue supporting Syria’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a state awards ceremony for military personnel who served in Syria, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool
Putin stressed that Russia would “continue to render every assistance to Syria in the protection of state sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, in the promotion of a political settlement process, as well as in efforts to restore the national economy,” the Kremlin said.
Earlier this month Putin ordered the Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing from the country, but said Russia would keep its Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province as well as its naval facility at Tartous “on a permanent basis”.
Russia first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams
BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:25 P.M.) – Two jihadist militias operating in rebel-held east Damascus, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) and Ahrar al-Sham (Muslim Brotherhood affiliate), have joined forces and launched a powerful offensive against the Syrian Arab Army, targeting a vulnerable salient in the district of Harasta.
According to reports, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham opened up their offensive with bulldozer bomb driven by a Saudi jihadist. It is unclear if the suicide bomber his mark intended mark or if his charge was destroyed per-maturely by army forces.
Immediately after the bulldozer detonated, violent clashes erupted in the area surrounding a key army base, represented by a vehicle depot, currently held by pro-government forces. It appears the military installation is the main target of the jihadist offensive.
At first, rebel fighters managed to overrun some army positions near the vehicle depot, however, the Syrian Army responded by calling on artillery and airstrikes which in turn laid down a wall of suppressible fire with shells, rockets and bombs.
Syrian army forces also detonated a prepared tunnel bomb which helped in foiling an assault by militants from the northern approaches to the base.
Clashes are ongoing for the area despite some reports suggesting otherwise, however it appears for now the Syrian Army has managed to stabilize the situation and may soon launch a counter-attack to reclaim lost positions.
Noor Lashes Out at Hekmatyar, Accuses ARG of Conspiracy]
“Jamayat-E-Islami, sometimes shortened to Jamiat, is a Muslim political party in Afghanistan. The majority of the party, the oldest Muslim political party in Afghanistan, are ethnic Tajiks of northern and western Afghanistan.”—Wiki
Some MPs have accused government of fueling the crisis in the country after ousting Atta Mohammad Noor.
Some members of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of Parliament, on Wednesday said that a number of Jihadi commanders and citizens have been armed in support of Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh, who was recently ousted by President Ashraf Ghani.
The legislators accused the government of fueling a crisis in the country.
The MPs reiterated the call to government officials to engage in talks with Jamiat-e-Islami party where Noor serves as chief executive and resolve their disputes through diplomacy and negotiations.
“All people have been armed, all people have taken up guns including men and women and are prepared to do what the honorable governor of Balkh tells them,” said MP Breshna Rafi.
“You all must be aware that we will create a major coalition inside and outside parliament and no one will dare to stand before it,” said MP Zahir Qadeer.
“Removal of Ustad Atta from Balkh province has several aspects, the honorable governor was tackled with political and ethnic discrimination and they want to weaken a particular ethnicity,” said MP Abdul Hai Akhundzada.
“We call on both Jamiat and the government not to prolong this issue more than this,” said MP Farishta Amini.
“The government must bring an end to the issue according to the demands of Jamiat,” said MP Qazi Abdul Rahim.
In addition, the administrative board of parliament pledged to mediate between the two sides, but stated that government is obliged to take all possible steps that could lead to ease tensions in the face of ongoing issues facing the nation.
“If needed, we will send a delegation comprising people from all ethnicities to address the issue and resolve it,” said Nazir Ahmadzai, second deputy of parliament.
The lawmakers warned that tensions between the two sides will have serious implications for the country.
Forward Operating Base Torkham, in Nangahar Province, Afghanistan (army.mil)
In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan and quickly smashed the Taliban government. It also killed hundreds of members of the al Qaeda group that had launched the attacks, although leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri escaped to Pakistan, along with about 200 followers. Ever since, we have been told that the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan must continue indefinitely or else al Qaeda will return and make the country once again into a “safe haven” from which to attack the United States. In U.S. political discourse and news stories, this has often been stated as a flat fact, beyond dispute.
Last August, Donald Trump invoked the threat of Afghanistan as a terrorist sanctuary torationalize extending the already 16-year war indefinitely and increasing the U.S. military presence by at least 4,000 troops. The president cited the same argument heard since 9/11: “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists—including ISIS and al Qaeda—would instantly fill.” In his speech outlining the policy, Trump added that his government would not negotiate with the insurgency until some undefined point years from now. “Nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said. The implication was that U.S. forces must stay and fight indefinitely or the country will once again become a base from which terrorists can attack America and its allies.
This safe haven argument is a myth—a false but widely believed tale used to justify continuing a policy of perpetual failure. President Barack Obama often invoked this safe haven myth to justify his Afghan surge of 2009-2012, which moved some 60,000 extra troops into the country and brought the U.S. military contingent to nearly 100,000. He invoked it also to justify his decision to keep nearly 10,000 there through his presidency, thus reversing his promise to end the war. The conventional wisdom insists that Obama’s decision to temporarily pull troops out of Iraq led to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and its short-lived “caliphate” in western Iraq and eastern Syria. But in fact a much greater factor was the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in the first place and Obama’s later support for the violent uprisings in Libya and Syria. In Yemen, the war against al Qaeda and the eventual regime change and war against al Qaeda’s enemies, the Houthis, have likewise increased the bin Ladenites’ power and influence there.
But leaders of both U.S. political parties and major media outlets have supported these policies, and to justify that position they ignore the role of Iraq and Obama’s post-Iraq interventions in exacerbating the situation. Instead, they say, the ceasing of intervention in any area causes matters to become worse.
But because of the Bush and Obama interventions since the 2001 Afghan invasion, the al Qaeda and ISIS safe havens are now all far from Afghanistan, in the U.S.-created “failed states” of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Furthermore, terrorists don’t need safe havens from which to strike. As we’ve seen in recent attacks in the United States and Europe, one or two men with rifles or a truck can do plenty of damage with no more preparation space than a rented apartment. Trump invoked the recent attack in Barcelona in his Afghanistan escalation speech. But none of those attackers had any direct tie to Afghanistan or any of the other major al Qaeda battle zones of the past few years.
The few dozen core al Qaeda members who survived the initial Air Force bombing campaign in Afghanistan fled the country by the end of 2001. They were a non-factor in the war against the Taliban regime, and at no point did they have major influence in the insurgency against the occupation that grew up in later years. If any did come back they would be irrelevant. Afghanistan is exile, as far as anyone can get from anywhere. It provides no special access to any Western target.
The September 11 hijackers, none of whom were Afghans, gained entry to the United States under regular tourist and student visas. The terrorists launched the attacks from Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey. They had planned them in Malaysia, Germany, Spain, California, Florida, and Maryland. True, Afghanistan benefited our enemies in its distance from the United States, making it somewhat difficult for America to hit back against targets there. But by 2002 there were no targets left in Afghanistan to bomb. Al Qaeda’s surviving members had fled to the neighboring state of Pakistan, an American ally.
Most of them spread from Pakistan to other parts of the region, planning further attacks in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, and Syria. According to former FBI counterterrorism expert Ali Soufan, those left hiding in Pakistan tried to set an example for others in the region, changing from “Chief Operators” to “Chief Motivators” for others seeking to join the war against America.
And yet the Bush and Obama administrations went to extensive lengths in pushing the ridiculous safe haven myth. They argued essentially that America could never leave Afghanistan because then the Afghan state would fail, the Taliban would regain power, and al Qaeda would be invited back into the country. Indeed, in the early years of the war it was common to hear the terms “al Qaeda” and “Taliban” used interchangeably as the government worked hard to conflate Osama bin Laden’s group with Mullah Omar’s government. But as Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn demonstrate in their book, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, the former Taliban leader couldn’t stand bin Laden and resented the radical terrorist’s threat to his fledgling regime, putting it in the crosshairs of the American superpower.
When the Washington Times’s Arnaud de Borchgrave interviewed Omar in summer 2001 he complained that bin Laden was like a “chicken bone stuck in his throat, that he can’t swallow or spit out.” An Army War College study said that bin Laden had refused to swear loyalty to Omar other than through a deniable proxy.
When the war came, the Taliban progressively loosened its conditions for extradition. First, it offered to surrender bin Laden and his men to an impartial Muslim state upon receiving evidence of bin Laden’s role in the attacks; next, it offered to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan upon being presented with evidence; and finally, once U.S. bombs started falling, the Taliban agreed to hand bin Laden over to any third country, even without evidence of his guilt. By then it was too late for the Taliban—but not for the lesson of the differences in the motives of these groups and the nature of their formerly uncomfortable, now non-existent alliance.
It bears repeating that fewer than 200 al Qaeda members escaped to Pakistan at the start of the war and thus could return to Afghanistan. Many of those have been arrested by police and spies, gone back home to pick up the revolution there, or were killed in the CIA’s Obama-era Pakistan drone war. Iran also apprehended a significant number of Arabs who had crossed their border during the initial invasion; most of those eventually were deported back to their home countries.
To justify continuing the Afghan mission, the U.S. government invoked the safe haven myth to obscure the fact that, though a handful of al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped, America had won the war. This small group of terrorists who had never managed to control their own county or district, much less any province or nation-state, were already dead, imprisoned, or had been driven out of the country, into further exile.
A limited mission, focused on Osama bin Laden and his few hundred men, could have been over by the end of 2001. Even Gary Berntsen, the second CIA officer in charge of the initial invasion, has conceded the likelihood of this. “The war could have been over pretty quickly,” he told reporter Michael Hirsh in 2016, lamenting Bush’s refusal to allow the Rangers and Marines to reinforce the CIA and Delta Force in their attempt to kill bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001. “We could have had the entire al Qaeda command structure had we done that. Also, the terrorism that metastasized into Pakistan might not have happened. It’s impossible to prove any of this. It’s a what-if. But, sadly, we lost the opportunity.”
General Anthony Zinni, former commander of Central Command, agrees. Al Qaeda in 2001, he says, “was a band of maybe a thousand radicals. Yet we created an investment in this that was on a level of what we do for existential threats. Obviously, we were traumatized by 9/11. I don’t mean to play that down. But this was not communism or fascism.”
Instead of declaring victory and coming home, the United States expanded its occupation strategy—and its list of enemies. The former Taliban government, initially acquiescent in defeat, has been fighting America and its NATO allies for almost 15 years, adding allies in the Haqqani Network and other groups. These forces have fought America and its allies to a stalemate.
If there’s a safe haven in the situation, it’s Pakistan. But, aside from the mysterious longevity of al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri on Pakistani soil, the sanctuary provided by that country is for the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network—in other words, local Pashtun tribal fighters, not international al Qaeda terrorists.
During the debate over Afghan strategy at the beginning of the Obama administration, when the president wanted to focus on killing the last of the leaders of the old “core” al Qaeda in Pakistan with CIA drones, the military insisted on escalation. One story leaked to the McClatchy news organization emphasized the safe haven myth and accused the White House of “minimizing warnings” that if the Afghan Taliban retook parts of Afghanistan it would invite al Qaeda back in. In fact, there was no new intelligence estimate on that point. This was simply spin and conjecture by those who wanted to expand the war. Osama bin Laden was still alive and at large then, making the alleged threat of the return of old core al Qaeda to Afghanistan seem more urgent, though the danger was not any more real than it had been since 2002.
After Trump became president, he seemed reluctant to escalate the war. He repeatedly delayed his decision on the new Afghan strategy and forced his National Security Council repeatedly to refine it. The president reportedly displayed his skepticism by invoking the failure of the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, as well as the Soviet Union more recently, to pacify the local Afghan population. This indicates an ability on the president’s part to differentiate between local tribal insurgents, fighting because our troops are on their front lawns, and international Arab terrorists intending to hit civilian targets inside the United States. In Afghanistan, the United States is fighting only the former.
But war proponents can always invoke the safe haven myth: we still must never fully cut and run, or who knows what might happen? What if al Qaeda attacks us again? In reality, there is no reason to think al Qaeda would come back to Afghanistan were the Taliban to return to power, especially considering the trouble they generated the last time around. When van Linschoten and Kuehn contacted representatives of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura after bin Laden was killed in May 2011, the Taliban figures didn’t seem to care in the slightest that he was dead or how he had died. “We are fighting for Mullah Muhammad Omar. He is our emir. We have never fought for Osama bin Laden. His death does not matter to us. We will continue with our struggle.” In fact, al Qaeda did not have a single representative on the Taliban leadership’s Quetta Shura council. Even before Obama launched his surge, a number of administration officials conceded there was no reason to believe that a Taliban victory would mean a return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan. These included Vice President Biden; Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative to the region; and John Brennan, then head of counterterrorism, later CIA director.
As the late war reporter Michael Hastings revealed, when Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal and their allies were pushing for the “surge” escalation in 2009, McChrystal neglected to even mention al Qaeda in his initial report. It wasn’t until Republican Senator Lindsey Graham reminded him of the importance of the safe haven argument that he began to frame the war in that way. It then became a major talking point until Obama finally relented and agreed to the surge.
Six months into it, CIA Director Leon Panetta conceded to ABC News that al Qaeda represented no serious threat in Afghanistan. “I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less,” he said, adding that al Qaeda’s main location was in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In fact, Panetta could not prove that there had been any Saudi or Egyptian mujahideen fighters left in the country for years, much less any real associates of bin Laden. But his concession should have been enough to cause a scandal: If “maybe less than 50” illusory al Qaeda fighters can keep us in the country indefinitely, is there any possible future context in which the government could declare victory over al Qaeda there, much less the Taliban? And if their presence was the reason for the war, why was eliminating them not the focus of the Obama escalation instead of the broader, obviously impossible, anti-Taliban, Pashtun-pacification counterinsurgency effort?
In December 2009, following Obama’s surge announcement, journalist Patrick Cockburn explained that the Afghan occupation, far from preventing terrorist attacks by denying our antagonists safe-haven, actually increased the likelihood of attacks in Western countries. Just a month before, a U.S. Army major named Nidal Hasan, set to deploy to Afghanistan and upset about reports of U.S. war crimes against civilians there and the prospect of having to kill fellow Muslims, killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 30 in a massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. It was later revealed that Hasan had been in contact with prominent American al Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Obama officials, insisting they had won the terror war and denying that blowback from U.S. policies had spurred this “lone wolf” attack, tried to spin the tragedy as “workplace violence,” as though Hassan had simply “gone postal.” But this was not truly “blowback,” defined as long-term consequences of secret foreign policies returning to haunt the United States, surprising the population and leaving them vulnerable to misinformation about the conflict. A more accurate way to identify this phenomenon would be to call it “backdraft,” when the direct consequences of the government’s openly declared foreign policies blow up right in all of our faces, undeniable to anyone but the most committed war hawks. This is borrowed from the term used by firefighters for when their ax-wielding or door-kicking intervention inadvertently provides oxygen to a heated and fuel-filled room, causing a massive explosion.
In recent years, American domestic terrorists Najibullah Zazi (New York subway plot), Faisal Shahzad (attempted Times Square bomber), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Boston Marathon bombing), Omar Mateen (Orlando nightclub slaughter), Ahmad Khan Rahami (New York, New Jersey sidewalk bomber), and Amor M. Ftouhi (Flint, Michigan stabbing) have all cited America’s Afghan war as at least partial motivation for their attacks and attempted attacks on U.S. targets.
In 2013, former Marine sergeant Thomas Gibbons-Neff wrote in the Washington Post that, after the Boston Marathon bombing, he rejected the safe haven myth and the concept that we must “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” He explained: “While I was deployed, I went to bed at night believing that I was protecting the homeland because coming after me and my fellow Marines was a much easier commute for those so hell-bent on killing Americans. But that argument no longer makes sense if my war has inspired enemies at home.”
Osama bin Laden is dead, and the war has been generating backdraft terrorist attacks against the United States. But haven’t you heard? ISIS is now in Afghanistan! Keep in mind, though, that ISIS is just a brand name. In Afghanistan, most of those who embrace the label are actually members of the Pakistani Taliban who fled Obama’s drone war and the Pakistani military’s infantry assaults back in 2010. They have now been joined by a relatively small number of former members of the Afghan Taliban as well—again, local Pashtun tribal fighters resisting rule from Kabul. For now, at least, these ISIS fighters are far outgunned by their Taliban competition, though U.S. Army and Air Force efforts in Nangarhar Province against those claiming ISIS’s name have only made them more powerful over the past few years.
As Dutch reporter Bette Dam lamented, we are seeing the rest of the exact same dynamic play out with them as with the entire insurgency over the years: seeing this new threat, the Army and Air Force have launched a massive response. Since January 2015, the U.S. has bombed the eastern Nangarhar Province in an attempt to fight this small insurgent faction now claiming ISIS’s name. As a result, “they are creating unrest, hopelessness and new enemies.” The anti-occupation violence Dam predicted has continued to escalate.
After a Green Beret was killed fighting ISIS in Nangarhar Province in April 2017, the U.S. Special Operations Command took revenge by dropping a 21,000-pound MOAB, “Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” on an enemy position. Since U.S. B-52s regularly bomb ISIS and Taliban targets—U.S. forces dropped more bombs in April 2017 than any other single month since 2012—the use of the MOAB in this instance seemed to be more about sending a message than anything else, though the military insisted the use of a fuel-air bomb was necessary to reach fighters hiding in tunnels deep underground.
The U.S. military then maintained that there were still hundreds of ISIS fighters left in eastern Afghanistan, giving the safe haven myth a new life. Never mind mythical al Qaeda leaders one day returning from Pakistan; now local Afghan and Pakistani Pashtun tribal fighters resisting the occupation and Kabul-based government, while declaring themselves part of ISIS, provide another enemy to fight into the indefinite future.
However, as expert Borhan Osman wrote shortly afterward in the New York Times:
Having been eclipsed by the Taliban, the Islamic State seems to be focused on marketing itself to potential and active jihadists. For that, it needs publicity. President Trump’s big bomb provided exactly that. The destruction of a network of caves is the perfect advertisement to lure radicals undecided about joining a jihadist group and attract members from other groups.
After the bombing and the subsequent military operations, the Islamic State in Khorasan’s radio station in Nangarhar has been roaring. One preacher called the bomb a blessing from God….This is a message skillfully tailored for young radicals, since for them American hostility is a stamp of a group’s credibility. The more a group is targeted by the United States, the greater its jihadi legitimacy.
Trump says he will achieve victory in Afghanistan, but he embraces the same failed and counterproductive policies that have served to increase the size and strength of the Taliban-based insurgency, Haqqani Network and now ISIS. And, while the government still invokes the hollow safe haven myth and insists it is defending Americans from Afghanistan-based terrorism, its ongoing war in that troubled land, with no end in sight, only puts Americans in greater danger.
Scott Horton hosts Antiwar Radio for KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles and the Scott Horton Show from ScottHorton.org, is managing director of The Libertarian Institute, and opinion editor of Antiwar.com. This essay is adapted from his new book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed a crackdown after a supermarket bomb injured 10 people in St. Petersburg, the latest in a series of attacks linked to Islamic extremists that have targeted his home city.
Putin said Thursday that he’d ordered the head of the Federal Security Service, in case of a threat to officers’ lives, “to act decisively, not to take any prisoners, to liquidate bandits on the spot,” in remarks at a televised ceremony with veterans of Russia’s military campaign in Syria.
The device that blew up late Wednesday in Russia’s second-largest city contained an explosive force equivalent to 200 grams of TNT, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said in a website statement. A man of non-Slavic appearance, who was recorded on security cameras, left the bomb in a backpack inside a locker in a Perekrestok supermarket before fleeing the scene, the Fontanka news service reported.
The attack came after Putin thanked U.S. President Donald Trump last week for information passed on by the Central Intelligence Agency that he said helped break up an Islamic State cell plotting to bomb St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other locations in the city. The tip-off saved “many lives,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.
In April, 14 people died in the St. Petersburg subway after a suicide bombing by a radical Islamist who was born in the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan. It marked the first major attack targeting Russia since October 2015, when Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bomb that downed a plane carrying Russian tourists from Egypt to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 on board.
The plane attack came a month after Putin ordered Russia’s military to begin operations in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebel groups in that country’s civil war. Russian officials have warned that several thousand militants from Russia fighting in Syria could return to stage attacks following the defeat there of Islamic State. When Putin ordered the Russian offensive in Syria, he said the goal was to destroy extremists and stop that from happening.
[The as yet unidentified bombers struck the Shia Cultural Center as the place was packed with Afghans, gathered to remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979. Odds are…this was either a Russian-sponsored attack, or staged to implicate Russia.]
The US is hosting training camps for militant groups in Syria, including former ISIS fighters who fled from Raqqa, said the head of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, citing data obtained by aerial surveillance.
The US forces have effectively turned their military base near the town of al-Tanf in southeastern Syria into a terrorists’ training camp, Gerasimov said in an interview to Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Wednesday.
“According to satellite and other surveillance data, terrorist squads are stationed there. They are effectively training there,” Gerasimov said, when asked about what’s going on at the base.
The general also said the US has been using a refugee camp in northeast Syria, outside the town of Al-Shaddadah in Al-Hasakah province, as a training camp for the remnants of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group, including those evacuated from Raqqa, and other militants.
“This is essentially ISIS,” Gerasimov said. “They change their colors, take different names – the ‘New Syrian Army’ and others. They are tasked with destabilizing the situation.”
Some 400 militants left Al-Shaddadah for Al-Tanf, launching an offensive on the Syrian forces from the eastern bank of Euphrates, after the main ISIS forces were routed there, Gerasimov said.
The Al-Tanf base is located within the 55km “de-confliction” buffer zone.
At the moment, there are about 750 militants in Al-Shaddadah and 350 in Al-Tanf on the Syrian-Jordanian border, according to Gerasimov, who said the Russian military has been watching the training at the Al-Tanf base for some time.
“The most important is that we have been seeing the militants advancing from there for several months. When the control [of the Syrian forces] loosened, as many as 350 militants left the area,” Gerasimov said, noting that the nearby town of Al-Qaryatayn was under threat of being captured by the militants had the Russian forces not repelled the offensive.
“We took timely measures…they have suffered a defeat, these forces were destroyed. There were captives from these camps. It is clear that training is underway at those camps,” he added.
It’s not the first time that Russia has pointed out to Washington that militants holed up inside the buffer zone have been staging attacks on Syrian forces. In October, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov called the base a 100km wide “black hole” created with US help on the Syrian border.
“Instead of the New Syrian Army, mobile ISIS groups, like a jack in the box, carry out sabotage and terrorist attacks against Syrian troops and civilians from there,” he said, noting that while the pretext for the base’s creation was “the need to conduct operations against ISIS” no information has been available to this respect during the first six months of its existence.
Fall and riseand:Saad Hariri, reportedly forced to quit as Prime Minister by Saudi Arabia, withdrew his resignation later.AFPSTR
It wanted to rein in Hezbollah but ended up making it stronger
Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, was summoned at 8:30 a.m. to the Saudi royal offices on the second day of a visit. There, he was handed a pre-written resignation speech and forced to read it on Saudi television. This, it seemed, was the real reason he had been beckoned to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a day earlier: to resign under pressure and publicly blame Iran.
As bizarre as the episode was, it was just one chapter in the story of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. At home, he has jailed hundreds of fellow princes and businessmen in what he casts as an anti-corruption drive. Abroad, he has waged war in Yemen and confronted Qatar. The day Mr. Hariri was ordered to report to Riyadh, he was just a pawn in the Crown Prince’s overall battle: to rein in the regional ambitions of Iran.
The back story
Mr. Hariri’s back story has been revealed in behind-the-scenes accounts from a dozen Western, Lebanese and regional officials and associates.
Prince Mohammed was looking to take out the Prime Minister of another country, one who was deemed not sufficiently obedient to his Saudi patrons. The prince intended to send a message: It was time to stop Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah from growing still stronger.
The saga was another example of a brash new leader trying to change the way Saudi Arabia has worked for years, but finding that action often results in unintended consequences. Now, Mr. Hariri remains in office with new popularity, and Hezbollah is stronger than before.
Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed — arguably clumsy — tactics alienated even staunch allies like the United States, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and much of Mr. Hariri’s Lebanese Sunni party. Saudi Arabia may yet clinch some modest concessions from Lebanon, officials and analysts say, but ones perhaps not worth the diplomatic storm.
The Saudi moves that started November 4 came in rapid-fire succession. In the space of little more than a day, the Saudis extracted Mr. Hariri’s resignation; accused Iran and Lebanon of an act of war after Yemeni rebels fired a missile at Riyadh; and rounded up the princes and businessmen on opaque corruption charges.
A week later, they ordered Saudi citizens to evacuate Lebanon.
The burst of contentious actions sent war tremors across the region.
Intense diplomacy by France, the U.S., Egypt and other countries produced a deal that allowed Mr. Hariri to leave Saudi Arabia.
But Prince Mohammed sent him home with a task: to get Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Yemen, Lebanese officials and Western and Arab diplomats involved in the deal said. That demand proved, the Western and Arab diplomats said, that the prince was not well-informed on Yemen. Hezbollah had only about 50 fighters in Yemen.
Riyadh did get something out of the turmoil. Lebanese officials are seeking a deal with Hezbollah that could include toning down its anti-Saudi rhetoric — as Mr. Hariri requested even before the Riyadh episode — and shuttering a pro-Houthi television station in Beirut. However, it remains unclear if Mr. Hariri can deliver enough to placate Riyadh.NY Times
[The human race is being blackmailed into accepting perpetual war as a substitute for “world peace”, with zones of war and zones of prosperity existing side by side. While mouthing pious words of service to a Supreme Diety and to American posterity, American leaders take the world to hell, buying time for themselves to increase their meaningless bookeeping numbers, representing imaginary “wealth.” If we allow this condition to survive our generation, the human race is finished and does not deserve the oxygen necessary to sustain our worthless lives.]
“It’s always going to be elusive,” says Terrell. “This war… is not meant to be resolved in any kind of way. It’s not meant to be won, it’s meant to be perpetual.”
Trump announced in August that he was revising the US strategy in Afghanistan, which steered away from the idea of “nation-building” and instead aimed at addressing terrorist threats in the region.
“The policy that [US President] Donald Trump is talking about is going to keep this war going,” Terrell predicted. This war isn’t about trying to beat the “bad guys,” he said, but about maintaining a cash cow for defense corporations.
“Our presence in Afghanistan is making it more dangerous,” Terrell told show hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. “[The war is] in the interest of the multinational corporations that are cashing in on this… [it’s not in the interest] of the American people or the Afghan people.”
And it’s best not to expect US politicians to get fed up and bring the troops home any time soon, the long-time peace activist commented.
“The irony is that when people in Congress are talking about the authorization for use of military force that was from 2001… what they are saying is that we need to change laws so that these ongoing wars will be legal and not to stop them.”
The US currently has an estimated 15,000 US troops in Afghanistan, Time reported. Another thousand military personnel are expected to join in early 2018.
The US is attempting to sell to the public the next phase of its continued occupation and military operations across the Middle East. Predicated on claims of “rebuilding” Iraq and “fighting terrorists” in Syria, it is in actuality a plan to perpetuate for as long as possible the upheaval currently consuming the region in hopes of overextending and exhausting Iran – and by extension – Russia.
Iranian Roadblock to Western Hegemony
The United States in its pursuit of global hegemony has placed particular focus on encircling, containing, undermining, and if possible, overthrowing the socioeconomic and political order of Iran as a means to secure for itself primacy over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the British followed by the Americans have pursued a multi-generational policy of divide and conquer across MENA.
Nations Ango-American influence could not outright conquer and co-opt such as the Persian Gulf monarchies – or create in the case of Israel – have been either picked apart and left in ruins through direct or indirect military interventions, or have spent decades staving off open and concerted efforts to divide and destroy their respective nations. These nations include Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Syria most recently, as well as Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria on and off throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Iran – above all other nations in the region – reserves a special place for Western attention. Its large population, geography, economy, and military might has provided it space and time to incrementally grow its power and influence throughout the region and the world to dimensions difficult for the West to overcome and dominate.
With 80 million people, a GDP of nearly $400 billion, and an army over half a million strong, Iran is not Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, nor Libya. And as the technological disparity among nations in regards to conventional military capabilities closes, the West finds itself in an increasingly disadvantageous position in regards to coercing Iran directly through force.
Because of this emerging reality, US policy versus Tehran is shifting from attempting to justify a military confrontation it is no longer certain it can win, to a policy of containment and limited conflict similar to America’s maneuvering in Asia Pacific regarding Beijing.
US Plans to “Minimize” Iran’s Influence in the Middle East
In Iraq, the US appears poised to extend its military presence under the pretext of aiding and rebuilding the country. It even suggests proposed aid levels comparable to those given to Afghanistan – a nation where, despite immense aid and a continuous US military presence since 2001 – still has seen and suffered the arrival and spread of the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS).
The paper claims:
A stronger, more stable Iraq will be much better positioned to resist domination by Iran. Given the stakes, and America’s previous investment, aid levels comparable to those given Afghanistan or Egypt are in order. Engaging in this way can also enable the United States to help Baghdad keep an eye on the Iran-backed Shia militias as they are partially disbanded and partially worked into Iraqi Security Forces in coming months.
In reality, the US is neither capable of creating a “stronger, more stable Iraq,” nor does it genuinely seek to do so. It will use its continued presence in Iraq to undermine and roll back progress made by Baghdad and its Iranian allies against militant groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda as well as US-backed Kurds in the nation’s north.
In particular, the US has invested an inordinate amount of time and resources to secure highways leading from Baghdad to Iraq’s borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia – two nations that have played a pivotal role in arming, funding, and harboring militants engaged in militant operations from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen. With a US presence along these highways, any torrent of logistical support for sectarian violence within Iraq would be difficult to target and eliminate by the Iraqi military or any of its allies – ensuring perpetual conflict.
A stronger, more stable Iraq, considering the nation’s Shia’a majority, would be more inclined to seek stronger ties with neighboring Iran than occupying Western forces and fits nowhere into Washington’s real plans for the nation. Instead, dividing Iraq into further sectarian conflict and drawing in Iranian support would seek to overextend and exhaust Iranian military power in the region.
In essence, the actual US plan for Iraq is to organize and implement the next round of deadly sectarian fighting.
Regarding Syria, US plans to occupy and administer seized Syrian territory were reiterated – plans that have been openly pursued since outright US-backed regime change stalled in 2011.
The paper claims:
Still, the United States and like-minded states—as well as global-aid agencies—need to help provide security and economic assistance to regions free of Assad’s rule as well as the Islamic State. Some of these regions should be treated as temporary autonomous zones and help govern themselves as well. Additionally, more western and GCC military strength and support for moderate insurgents is needed in northwest parts of the country, such as in and around Idlib, where the Al Qaeda affiliate, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, is still active. Otherwise, either the latter group or Assad’s forces backed by Russia and Iran will be the likely victor.
Essentially, the US seeks to Balkanize Syria and continue its proxy war against Damascus.
The article sidesteps intentionally around the fact that Idlib’s Al Qaeda occupants were armed, funded, trained, and sent there by the United States and its allies in the first place. It also intentionally sidesteps the reality that there are no “moderate insurgents” in Syria, and there never were.
The paper tips America’s hand, revealing that ongoing Western operations in Syria are aimed not at fighting and defeating ISIS or Al Qaeda, but using the presence of both groups as a pretext to prevent the Syrian government from restoring order to the country, preserving its territorial integrity, and rebuilding its economy. Both terrorist organizations serve as placeholders, denying Damascus access to its own territory until US military assets can take and hold it.
Congress and Ukraine long sought anti-tank weapons in battle against separatists
It’s another US development that Russia is expected to criticize
(CNN)The US is going to provide anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, a senior State Department official told CNN.
The State Department officially announced Friday evening that the US was going to provide Ukraine with “enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression,” but the statement from spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was not going to give any further details
The State Department said the “US assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself.”
Members of Congress and the US-backed Ukrainian government had long requested anti-tank weapons to boost Kiev in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
This is another development from the US that Russia is expected to criticize. Some experts told CNN that Russia could use this move as a pretext to take further action in Ukraine, after its invasion and annexation of the Crimea region in 2014.
The move comes amid a recent uptick in clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists, and the same week the Trump administration announced it would permit sales of some small arms to Ukraine from US manufacturers.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had discussed the recent escalation in clashes in a phone call Friday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to an official readout issued by the Ukrainian government.
The statement says Poroshenko thanked Tillerson for “the prolongation of sanctions against Russia” and for “the consistent support of Washington regarding the increase of Ukraine’s defense capacity.”
The statement also said that “Tillerson emphasized that the US would further support Ukraine.”
On Wednesday the Trump administration had announced it was allowing the export of some small arms to Ukraine. Nauert said the department notified Congress on December 13 that it had approved an export license, which allows Ukraine to buy certain light weapons and small arms from US manufacturers.
“The US government is not selling the Ukrainian government these weapons,” she said. The US has not provided lethal defensive equipment to Ukraine, Nauert said, nor has it ruled out doing so.
Following that announcement, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, issued a statement calling on Trump “to authorize additional sales of defensive lethal weapons, including anti-tank munitions,” to Ukraine.
Anti-tank weapons have long been seen as a critical capability to allow the Ukrainian military to combat the armored vehicles in the possession of the separatists, equipment that US officials say is supplied by Russia.
“Vladimir Putin has chosen war instead of peace in Ukraine. So long as he makes this choice, the United States and the Free World should give Ukraine what it needs to fight back,” McCain added.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded to reports that the US and Canada have decided to allow weapons exports to Ukraine by accusing Washington and Ottawa of making false claims about the conflict in Ukraine as a “pretext to begin large-scale lethal weapons deliveries to Ukraine.”
Zakharova went on to say arming Ukraine would further inflame tensions and push Ukraine “towards reckless new military decisions.”
Nauert had also addressed the conflict in Ukraine on Tuesday, saying, “Russia and its proxies are the source of violence in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian government continues to perpetuate an active conflict and humanitarian crisis through its leadership and supply of military forces on the ground.”
Nauert said the US continued to call on Russia to withdraw its forces and weaponry from Ukraine.
The new US National Security Strategy released this week and the speech delivered by President Donald Trump Monday to introduce it constitute a grim warning to humanity that US imperialism is firmly embarked on a road that leads to a nuclear third world war.
While the document has largely been passed over in silence by the president’s ostensible political opponents in the Democratic Party and given relatively short shrift by the establishment media, more thoughtful ideologists of imperialism have noted the far-reaching changes presented in the document.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the historian Arthur L. Herman declared Trump’s National Security Strategy heralds a “profound shift back to the world before 1917: an anarchic international arena in which every sovereign state, large or small, has to rely on armed strength” for its security.
“In this new era” Herman writes, “might inevitably makes right.” Only power matters, and “the big powers inevitably dominate the small.”
Herman adds, “This is the world of Otto von Bismarck, who said in 1862: “The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions. .. but by iron and blood.”
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal lauded the document’s unvarnished realpolitik, praising its identification of China and Russia by name as “revisionist powers” that seek to “challenge American power, influence, and interests.” With a glee that resembles nothing so much as the war fever gripping the ruling classes before the First World War, the Journal hails the document as an “important corrective from the sunny assurances of the Obama years” and his proclamations that “the tide of war is receding.”
The international press has likewise drawn far-reaching conclusions from the document, with Brendan Thomas-Noone proclaiming in the Australian that, despite the “uncertainty” surrounding the Trump Administration, the document reveals a longer-term “shift in the US foreign policy consensus from global economic integration to great power competition.”
He continues: “The security strategy argues that the US is entering a new era of great power competition with ‘revisionist’ states—China and Russia. For several decades now, US policy has been to engage these powers, bringing them into international institutions and integrating them with the global economy. It was thought that this would, as the strategy puts it, ‘turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners’. It adds that ‘for the most part, this premise turned out to be false.’”
To the extent that there has been criticism from the Democrats and their media allies, it has largely centered on the failure of both the document and the speech to explicitly denounce Russia for its alleged “meddling” in the 2016 election. This line of faultfinding only tends to support the overall bellicose character of the administration’s policy, merely advancing a tactical quibble over whether Russia or China should be the priority target in US war preparations.
Mandated by a law passed in 1986, the annual presentation by the White House to Congress of a National Security Strategy (NSS) is supposed to outline Washington’s “worldwide interests, goals and objectives” and present “proposed short-term and long-term uses of the political, economic, military, and other elements of the national power” to achieve them.
If the latest NSS and Trump’s speech have elicited little in the way of substantive criticism, it is undoubtedly because there has been a strong element of continuity in US strategy over the course of the past quarter century since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union and the proclamation by Washington of a new “unipolar moment.”
In essence, that strategy has been based on the conclusion that the liquidation of the USSR had relieved US imperialism of previous restraints upon the use of military force in pursuit of its global interests. The predominant layers within the US ruling elite embraced a strategy based upon the delusion that US military supremacy could be actively employed as an instrument for offsetting the relative decline of American capitalism’s dominance of the globe.
This belligerent posture was a manifestation not of American capitalism’s strength, but rather its degeneration and the fears within the US ruling class that the much-celebrated “American Century” could be coming to an end.
In 1992 the Pentagon adopted a foundational Defense Planning Guidance document spelling out Washington’s global hegemonic ambitions. It stated:
“There are other potential nations or coalitions that could, in the further future, develop strategic aims and a defense posture of region-wide or global domination. Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”
The 1990s saw the implementation of this new policy through the first Persian Gulf War and the brutal intervention to break up Yugoslavia, culminating in the US-led bombing of Serbia in 1999.
The events of September 11, 2001 provided the “war on terror” pretext for a vast escalation of global American militarism. Washington’s policy was spelled out in a 2002 National Security Strategy issued by the Republican administration of George W. Bush adopting the doctrine of “preventive warfare.” This doctrine held that the US could attack any country in the world that it perceived as a potential threat to US interests, a policy that essentially repudiated the Nuremberg principles on aggressive war that provided the legal foundation for the trial and execution of the surviving Nazi leaders.
The doctrine found swift application in the US invasion of Iraq, on the phony pretext of “weapons of mass destruction,” producing one of the greatest war crimes since the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Democratic President Barack Obama, elected based on the misconception that he would initiate a reversal of Bush’s policy, embellished upon the “preventive war” doctrine in his justification of the unprovoked 2011 US war of aggression against Libya. He insisted that US military force was justified even when “our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are,” adding that this included actions aimed at “ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce.” In other words, Washington reserves the “right” to launch aggressive war anywhere that the profits and markets of US banks and corporations are at stake.
While there is an unmistakable continuity between these earlier elucidations of the doctrine of global US militarism and the belligerent NSS document and speech delivered by Trump, there is also a significant break, reflecting the deepening crisis of American and world capitalism and the fact that the latest stage in the ongoing US struggle for world hegemony is aimed ever more directly at Russia and China, both nuclear powers.
In his speech, Trump cast himself—much in the manner that Adolph Hitler did in Germany eight decades ago—as the savior of the nation and the champion of the “forgotten man” come to reverse a sellout to foreign interests by “too many of our leaders—so many—who forgot whose voices they were to respect, and whose interest they were supposed to defend.”
Underlying this “stab in the back” rhetoric is the fact that the past quarter century of US military aggression has produced one debacle after another while demonstratively failing to reverse the decline of American capitalism on the world stage.
At their core, the NSS document and Trump’s speech reflect the conclusions drawn from this experience by the top brass of the US military, whose representatives—McMaster, Mattis and Kelly—now dominate the White House and US foreign policy. Described by leading Democrats as “the adults in the room,” their prescription is for a massive escalation of US militarism.
The document laments the “strategic complacency” of the US over the past period, the failure to build “military capacity” and acquire “new weapons systems,” as well as the idea that war could be “won quickly, from stand-off distances with minimal casualties.” Clearly, what they have in mind are an unprecedented increase in military spending and new wars in which the deaths of US soldiers will once again be counted in the tens and hundreds of thousands.
Above all, however, the text departs from previous NSS documents in its open embrace of nuclear war as a viable option. The document states that a buildup of the US nuclear arsenal is “essential to prevent nuclear attack, nonnuclear strategic attacks, and large scale conventional aggression,” strongly suggesting that the US military is prepared to launch a nuclear first strike in response to a nonnuclear challenge. It goes on to affirm that “fear of [nuclear] escalation will not deter the United States from defending our vital interests.”
“History,” Leon Trotsky warned on the eve of the Second World War, “is bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.”
This prognosis has found powerful confirmation in the threats emanating from Washington this week. The lack of any significant opposition makes it clear that there is no “peace faction” within the US ruling establishment. The prospect of a third—nuclear—world war can be countered only by the international working class mobilizing itself as an independent revolutionary force against imperialist war and its source, the capitalist system.
NEW YORK – On the market day of April 26, 1937, at the bequest of Spanish Gen. Francisco Franco, a bombing of the Basque town of Guernica took place. It was carried out by Spain’s nationalistic government allies, the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria. The attack, under the code name Operation Rugen, in which hundreds of people died, became a rallying cry against the brutal killing of innocent civilians.
Eighty years later, however, an even more criminal action is being carried out against Yemeni civilians mainly by Saudi Arabia, with the complicity of the United States.
The Yemeni civil war began in 2015 between two factions that claim to represent the Yemeni government. Houthi soldiers allied with forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, clashed with forces loyal to the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched military operations against the Houthis, and the U.S. provided logistical and military support for the campaign.
The Houthi rebels make up almost a third of Yemen, and have ruled the country for hundreds of years. Since the beginning of the hostilities, the Houthis advance to the south of Yemen has met with the constant bombardment by Saudi Arabia and its allies, resulting in a dramatic humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, and thousands more have been forced to leave their homes and are desperately trying to find food and potable water.
Contaminated water as a result of an almost total sanitation breakdown has provoked a cholera outbreak considered the worst in history.
The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases and 2,156 deaths. At the current rate of infection, experts estimate that the number of cases will reach seven figures by the end of the year. Presently, almost 20 million Yemenis — more than two-thirds of the population — do not have access to clean water and sanitation.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the emergency health care needs of the population have been so great that health care workers are unable to provide even basic medical care. When fighting intensified in some areas, there were no formal rescue services, so residents and relatives had to dig their loved ones out from the rubble of damaged buildings.
An Amnesty International report titled “Yemen: The Forgotten War” describes the consequences of the attacks carried out by Saudi Arabia’s coalition. According to the report, more than 4,600 civilians have been killed and over 8,000 injured. Three million people have been forced out of their homes and 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, fuel and sanitation, and 2 million children are out of school.
The flow of arms, however, continues unabated. “The irresponsible and unlawful flow of arms to the warring parties in Yemen has directly contributed to civilian suffering on a massive scale,” declared James Lynch of Amnesty International. As Iran continues its support of the Houthis’ ragtag army, reports indicate that Saudi Arabia will purchase $7 billion worth of arms from the U.S.
In the meantime, health facilities continue to be hit by bombs and health and humanitarian workers are increasingly targeted. In a scene out of Guernica, Amal Sabri, a resident of Mokha, a port city on the Red Sea coast, described a Saudi Arabia airstrike that killed at least 63 civilians: “It was like something out of Judgment Day. Corpses and heads scattered, engulfed by fire and ashes.”
In Yemen today, world powers have not yet learned the lesson from Guernica.
Cesar Chelala, M.D., is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
The goal of this geoengineering would be to create an effect not unlike when clouds suddenly block the sun and chill a warm afternoon. Average surface temperatures might be held down by a few degrees worldwide, these experts suggest — enough, they theorize (maybe with fingers crossed), to stave off environmental cataclysm.
How to do this? With smoke and mirrors. For real.
One idea is to launch giant mirrors into space, where they would bounce back some of the sun’s energy. Another suggestion involves spraying ocean water into the air to whiten clouds and thereby increase their capacity to deflect sunlight. Then there is a widely discussed plan to pump sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. Those particles, too, would reflect the sun’s radiation back toward space, comparable to the effects of natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions. The haze created by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 spread so widely that average global temperatures dropped by nearly one degree for more than a year.
Let’s set aside these proposals for a moment to first note that the aerosols plan faintly echoes a terrifying scenario that informs the latest offering from Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that study the continuing impact of major news stories of the past.
In the 1980s, fears took hold that a war-prone world lived in the shadow of catastrophic global cooling, a potential disaster called nuclear winter. Perhaps no one was more effective in warning of the peril than the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. In 1983, Dr. Sagan and four other scientists published their conclusion that an all-out nuclear war, presumably between the United States and the Soviet Union, could doom humankind. The horror would go well beyond the immediate devastation of cities and mass deaths in the hundreds of millions. What would follow would be a winter so severe that the living might well envy the dead.
With forests and scores of cities set ablaze, enough dust and smoke would be hurled into the upper atmosphere to blot out the sun. The darkening would last for many months, most oppressively in the Northern Hemisphere, though the Southern Hemisphere would hardly be immune. Beneath the sun-blocking canopy, surface temperatures would plummet, conceivably by as much as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant and animal life would die. Famine would spread across the globe.
But soon enough, scientist skeptics weighed in. The temperature drop would not be as precipitous as Dr. Sagan and Company had forecast, they said. Nor would the quantities of combustible material — plastics, wood, petroleum, vegetation — be as vast as first thought. For some scientists, “nuclear winter” was a good deal less probable than a milder “nuclear autumn.” The end was not nigh. By 1990, even those who had issued the earlier doomsday warnings took a step back.
One of them was Richard P. Turco, a physicist who had coined the phrase “nuclear winter.” Not that menace no longer loomed, he asserted. “Essentially, what we say is that the basic physics we proposed turned out to be correct, although the magnitude of the effects has been moderated somewhat,” Dr. Turco said in 1990.
Actually, he said, he never believed humankind was likely to be wiped out. “That was a speculation of others, including Carl Sagan,” he said. “My personal opinion is that the human race wouldn’t become extinct, but civilization as we know it certainly would.”
Some might see an element of the surreal in a debate about whether the long-range effects of a full-scale nuclear war would be (a) indescribably horrible or (b) cosmically ruinous. That said, the specter of nuclear winter helped spur major reductions in the superpowers’ nuclear arsenals, by making the utter folly of nuclear warfare plainer than ever. Any country that dared to launch an attack would inevitably wind up under the same toxic gauze as everyone else, and thus commit national suicide.
The worldwide inventory of nuclear weapons is now believed to be about one-fourth what it was in the early 1980s. Last year, the total stood at an estimated 15,850, with more than 90 percent of them in the hands of the United States and Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks the armaments.
But there are also now more nuclear-armed countries than in the 1980s — nine of them, by the institute’s count: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Not all are paragons of rational behavior. And not every scientist is convinced that the world is out of danger.
“A ‘small’ nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with each using 50 Hiroshima-size bombs (far less than 1 percent of the current arsenal), if dropped on megacity targets in each country would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history,” Dr. Robock wrote in 2011 in the journal Nature. Temperatures, he continued, “would be lower than during the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1400-1850), during which famine killed millions.”
Back to geoengineering. Pumping chemicals into the upper atmosphere would amount to a mild — one can only hope extremely mild — version of a nuclear winter effect. Ideas along this line have been around for a while, but putting them into practice has proved elusive. For starters, who gets to choose what method, if any, should be employed? Do all countries have a say? How much would the project cost?
And how does anyone keep the immutable rule known as the Law of Unintended Consequences from kicking in? “Anything built by humans and operated by humans can fail,” Dr. Robock told Retro Report. “So would you trust our only planet to this?”
A concern often expressed about geoengineering is that it might undermine efforts to achieve the fundamental goal of keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Would people change their carbon-spewing ways if they believed some quick fix existed?
Similarly, in the hypothesizing over the extent of climate change in the aftermath of a nuclear war, might not a more useful focus be how to keep the bombs from falling in the first place? Thoughts turn to “WarGames,” a 1983 film in which a supercomputer, thinking that it is merely caught up in an exercise, nearly touches off global nuclear warfare.
“A strange game,” the computer finally concludes, to everyone’s relief. “The only winning move is not to play.”
Follow Up December 20 Military spokesman Babak Taghpay announced that the Patriot missile defense system in Saudi Arabia failed to intercept the ballistic missile launched by the Yemeni missile force at Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday (December 20th).
According to him, Saudi Arabia fired five MIM-104C missiles from the Patriot air defense system on the ballistic missile “Volcano-2H”, stressing that the missiles could not intercept the missile “Ansar Allah”, but the ballistic missile Did not reach the goal also according to his claim.
Earlier, Saudi media reported that Saudi Arabia had succeeded in repelling the rocket attack on Riyadh.
The New York Times has revealed earlier that the claims of Saudi Arabia and President Trump to repel a similar missile targeted King Khalid airport in Riyadh false and that the missile hit his target at the airport already.
Al-Masirah, close to Ansar Allah in Yemen, showed a video clip of what they said was the launch of a ballistic missile from Yemen at Al Yamamah Palace in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The “Yemeni War Media” account on Facebook also showed pictures of the “H2 volcano” missile, which was announced by the Saudi-led Arab coalition forces on Tuesday before heading to Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh.
The Yemeni missile force said on Tuesday that it had fired a rocket of the type “volcano 2H” towards a meeting of Saudi leaders at Al Yamamah Palace in the capital Riyadh, stressing that “the missile was issued from a base away from the target of a thousand kilometers, for a thousand days on the start of the Saudi aggression On Yemen. “
She added that “the Yemeni missile hit his target, which is a distance of a kilometer and a half from the US embassy in Riyadh, confirming that the embassy neighborhood 500 meters from the Royal Palace of Saudi Arabia.
For his part, military journalist Babak Taghpay said that the missiles of the Patriot missile defense system in Saudi Arabia, failed to intercept the ballistic missile, launched by “Ansar Allah” on Tuesday, 20 December.
According to him, Saudi Arabia fired five MIM-104C missiles from the Patriot air defense system on the ballistic missile “Volcano-2H”, stressing that the missiles could not intercept the missile “Ansar Allah”, but the ballistic missile He did not reach the goal either.
Brian O’Toole, who was a senior officer in the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, calls the Politico report ‘a grand conspiracy led by Hezbollah’
Obama administration reportedly shielded Hezbollah from DEA and CIA to save Iran nuclear deal
Nasrallah: Hezbollah to focus on Jerusalem, best response to Trump would be third intifada
Israeli intel minister to Saudi media: Israel can strike Iranian missile plants in Lebanon, ‘as is happening in Syria’
A former CIA adviser denied a Politico report in a series of tweets on Tuesday, calling it “a grand conspiracy led by Hezbollah.” According to the Monday report, the Obama administration thwarted a covert operation against the militant Lebanese group in order to save the Iran nuclear deal.
In a tweet, Brian O’Toole called Politico’s sources “malcontents” who turned to the press despite the fact that no one in the civil service agreed with them.
According to the Atlantic Council think tank, O’Toole was a CIA adviser and worked in the intelligence department of the Department of the Treasury from 2009 until this year, and then became senior members of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and a specialist on sanctions.
O’Toole wrote that he would be careful with what he reveals, because “unlike the many sources cited by name here, I actually intend to honor the non-disclosure agreement I signed with the CIA and treasury.”
“What this story and these people allege is a grand conspiracy led by Hezbollah. They’d have you believe it involved multiple world leaders and centers around Hezbollah actively trafficking in narcotics. They’ve based these assessments on classic analytical overreach, however,” added O’Toole.
According to Politico’s Monday report, the White House directly prevented actions by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to battle Hezbollah drugs and weapons trafficking operations in order to avoid hurting what was then a delicate emerging nuclear agreement with Iran.
“It disgusts me that they would go public with this conclusion because no one else in the career civil service would agree with them. These weren’t politicals at every turn, but seasoned analysts who knew much more than they did,” wrote O’Toole.
He added that in his opinion, the Politico report was possible due to the fact that the sources knew that they would receive “no rebuke” from the Trump administration, which he called “deparate to hammer Iran and unwilling to discuss classified info in public.”
He further said the report “may well end up helping Hezbollah.”
Other independent journalists have begun investigating into who the quoted sources are in the Politico report. One of them may be Katherine Bauer, who worked in the U.S. Ministry of the Treasury during the Obama Administration. The report quotes statements made by Bauer to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which she said that “these investigations were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”
The report, however, did not say that Bauer currently works at a research institute founded by AIPAC, which opposes the nuclear deal. David Asher, one of the founders of the operation against Hezbollah, called the Cassandra Project, was also quoted, as saying that the closer they got to a deal with Iran, the more operations were cancelled. Today Asher works at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracy, a think tank that testified before Congress 17 times against the nuclear deal.
The Politico report was based on a number of interviews, according to which the DEA tracked Hezbollah’s criminal activities including cocaine trafficking and money laundering for eight years. They evidence showed that Hezbollah’s inner circle and Iran’s supporters were involved in these activities — but that the administration prevented or delayed arrests and investigations into Hezbollah operatives.
FILE – This undated file photo, shows Abu Mohammed al-Golani, second right, then leader of Fatah al-Sham Front, in pictures posted by the group, discussing battlefield details with field commanders over a map, in Aleppo, Syria. As President Bashar Assad seeks to reassert his authority in the northern province of Idlib he may be aided by deep fractures within the militant extremist group that that dominates in the region.(Fatah al-Sham Front via AP, File)
By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press
BEIRUT — As President Bashar Assad seeks to reassert his authority in Idlib, the only remaining province in Syria where his forces have almost no presence, he may be aided there by deep fractures within al-Qaida, the militant group that dominates the region.
A recent wave of detentions and a spate of violence within al-Qaida have also raised fears of an all-out war between insurgents in the heavily populated province near Turkey as Assad’s forces make their push.
Assad lost control of Idlib nearly three years ago and he has vowed to recapture it, but that is expected to be a bloody and costly fight. The militant haven is heavily fortified and home to thousands of fighters who transferred there from other parts of the country. It is also where tens of thousands of civilians settled after fleeing fighting in Aleppo, Homs, the suburbs of Damascus and elsewhere.
Tensions inside Idlib have been on the rise for months, reflecting a power struggle between hard-line foreign fighters loyal to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and its more moderate Syrian members.
The tensions worsened in late November after a wave of detentions by an al-Qaida-linked group against more extremist, mostly non-Syrian members. Among those detained were two of al-Qaida’s most esteemed leaders and founding members of the extremist group’s branch in Syria, who were set free days later after pressure by factions within the group who threatened to withdraw from the battlefield in protest.
The Nov. 27 raids by the al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, also known as HTS — took many by surprise and angered al-Zawahri, who accused his top man in Syria of betrayal.
The detentions, ordered by HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani, were the clearest indication yet of the sharp divisions within the international terror network. They also come as al-Golani appears to be edging closer to Turkey, which is trying, along with Iran and Russia, to bring an end to the country’s civil war, now in its seventh year.
HTS was until recently on the ascendant in Syria, crushing potential opponents in Idlib as its rival, the Islamic State group, faced significant setbacks, losing most of the territory it once held in the country.
Those who were detained included Jordanian citizens Sami Oraidi, al-Qaida’s former top religious figure in Syria, and the highly secretive former military commander in southern Syria, Ayad Toubasi, also known as Abu Julaybib al-Urduni, brother-in-law of the late al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
After their detentions, other al-Qaida officials, including a prominent cleric, went to ask al-Golani why their comrades were detained. But the men ended up being taken into custody themselves.
“The campaign of arrests against our brothers and cadres will not stop us from continuing our struggle against the enemies of God and will open for you a door that you will wish you never opened,” a Syria-based al-Qaida commander, Abu Humam al-Shami, who is opposed to HTS, warned earlier this month.
Days after al-Shami’s warning, intense clashes broke out between HTS and the Jund al-Malahem faction that split from it in October and is close to the detained al-Qaida officials, leaving at least seven people dead.
“There are widespread concerns of a full-blown confrontation between the two sides,” said an opposition activist in northern Syria who lives in areas controlled by HTS. Speaking by telephone, he asked that his name not be made public for fear of reprisals by the militants.
The activist said that dozens of other members and commanders, including one known as Abu Khadija who used to run al-Qaida’s notorious al-Iqab prison, were also detained.
“It is clear that the jihadist movement in Syria is suffering probably the worst moment of internal fighting since the 2013 schism between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra,” said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group. Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front was the predecessor of HTS before it changed its name.
Oraidi and Toubasi were released after pressure by two of HTS’s most powerful armed wings, which were on the verge of withdrawing from the fight against Assad’s forces if the two were not released, according to Assem Zeidan of the Turkey-based Jabhat al-Nusra Violations group that traces al-Qaida’s atrocities in Syria.
HTS said in a statement that the detainees, whom it did not identify, have “ruined the foundations” of the organization it said was dedicated to “setting up a Sunni entity that gathers all the powers of the people of the Levant to fight the enemy and represent the people of Syria.” It did not say what their offenses were.
The detentions angered al-Zawahri, who released an audio recording in which he accused HTS and al-Golani of “betraying the vow of allegiance,” adding that al-Golani’s decision to break ties with al-Qaida last year had weakened the international terror network.
The move, in which Syria’ al-Qaida branch, known at the time as the Nusra Front, cut all ties with the international terror network, was seen by many as an attempt to improve its image. Months later, it formed and led a coalition consisting of several militant groups that became known as HTS, and crushed most rival groups in areas it controlled.
Ahmad Hamade, a Syrian army colonel who defected early in the conflict, said that HTS is more tolerated in northern Syria, where al-Qaida’s more extremist factions are usually not welcomed. In fact, many HTS fighters were members of the Free Syrian Army, the mainstream rebels fighting to topple Assad, he said.
Cafarella said that what happened over the past year with al-Qaida in Syria was that al-Golani, “a forward-leaning, visionary subordinate, told his skeptical boss (al-Zawahri) to just trust him and let him implement his vision for the good of the organization.”
“The subordinate failed to generate the promised outcome in acceptable time, however. The skeptical boss therefore reclaimed control,” said Cafarella who closely follows jihadi groups in the Middle East.
For months, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria has been witnessing rivalry between its mostly Syrian, relatively moderate members and the foreign fighters who remain loyal to al-Zawahri. The tension became more apparent after Turkey started sending troops into areas held by HTS in northern Syria in October, with some HTS members supporting Ankara’s incursion and foreign fighters calling against it.
Asad Kanjo, an opposition activist from Idlib who currently lives in Britain, said that the divisions within al-Qaida’s branch in Syria are the result of al-Golani trying to market himself as a Syrian leader who has no links to the international terror network.
“This is a purely Turkish move. Turkey wants the Syrian branch (HTS) to cut all links with the international organization,” Kanjo said, paving the way for al-Golani to join the political process.
Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy wrote recently that HTS seeks to establish ties with countries like Turkey in an attempt to become part of the solution.
“This will further push away hard-line jihadis and al-Qaida loyalists who have to make a decision about their fate in a country that is increasingly divided into spheres of influence of foreign countries,” he wrote.
Director General of Jerusalem Awqaf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib (Photo courtesy of Royal Court)
Following is the full text of Director General of Jerusalem Awqaf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib’s remarks during His Majesty King Abdullah’s meeting with Christian religious leaders and figures from Jordan and Jerusalem on the occasions of Christmas and the New Year at the Baptism Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan) on Sunday:
Your Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein, Custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem,
Peace, God’s mercy and blessings be upon you,
I am honoured to stand here to convey to Your Majesty the greetings and pride of your soldiers: the imams, staff and guards of the holy Al Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif and those who stand strong to protect Al Aqsa Mosque; and to renew the pledge to Your Majesty that we will sacrifice our lives, children and money to defend the First Qibla of Muslims and the stepping stone of the Israa (the nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem) of your great-grandfather, the Hashemite Arab Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him.
This is a great responsibility that you, Your Majesty, carry on behalf of the entire Muslim nation, based on religion, prophecy, history and the blood of the martyrs of your Arab Army on the walls of Al Aqsa. You continue to write the pages of history in defending Jerusalem and holy sites. May God grant you victory, support your armies, and reward you on behalf of all Muslims for your good deeds.
Jerusalem, now, faces grave dangers, exacerbated recently by US President Donald Trump’s ominous decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, an occupying power, and to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. It is an unjust decision that we have rejected in the strongest terms, as it represents a violation of the divine definition of Al Aqsa Mosque and ignores the presence of churches in Jerusalem. It is an attack on every Muslim and on every Christian; on every Jordanian and every Palestinian, and on all those who stand against colonialism, occupation, and bigotry.
The most dangerous aspect in Trump’s decision, in our view at the Jerusalem Awqaf Department, is that it legitimises and encourages the Judaisation of the heritage of Jerusalem, changes the status quo, and eliminates its historical and legal character, in a manner that threatens our Islamic and Christian holy sites. There are daily Judaisation violations against the Islamic and Christian holy sites and waqf and Christian property, including the confiscation and tampering with the ownership of property, through dishonest and illegal means, like what happened with some church property. This, under your directives, has called upon the Jerusalem Awqaf Department, in turn, to stand by our Christian brothers and to work with them to uncover illegal attempts targeting this property, and to expose and counter forgery and fraud by utilising the documents preserved by the Awqaf Department, and which confirm the ownership rights of these Christian endowments.
The targeting of the Christian holy sites by Jewish extremists, and the arson and vandalism of over 53 churches in Jerusalem and Palestine, in so-called price tag attacks is no different than the dozens of times that the graves of Muslims have been defaced, and thousands of fake Jewish tombs have been planted on Islamic waqf land. These violations are clear evidence that the objective is to remove every holy site and heritage that is not Jewish in the holy city, and Al Aqsa Mosque lies at the heart of danger, in terms of the number and nature of these attacks.
We reaffirm our commitment to the Pact of Omar, which stipulates that we must protect our Christian brothers and defend them, their holy sites and property. We consider any attack against Christian endowments to be an attack against Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Awqaf.
You have warmed the hearts of all Jerusalemites with your historic statement at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Extraordinary Summit in Istanbul, when you said: “The right of Muslims and Christians to Jerusalem is eternal”, because it is a statement that affirms Islamic-Christian unity based on the Pact of Omar and a divine promise that the Al Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif is for Muslims just like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is for Christians alone, and God’s promise is greater than the promises of Trump and Balfour.
Your people in the city of Jerusalem look to your Custodianship of holy sites with great hope, because you are the great supporter after God Almighty, protecting and looking after Islamic and Christian holy sites, and supporting the perseverance of its people. We pledge to Your Majesty that we will remain in Jerusalem, Muslims and Christians, as loyal guards ready to give our lives to defend holy sites and your Custodianship over them.
May God protect you, Your Majesty, and keep you as a defender and protector of holy sites and of the cause of Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Palestine, and the capital of all Muslims and all Christians.
Rebecca Dykes was found dead on the side of a motorway north of Beirut
British woman may have been strangled (screengrab)
Lebanese police have arrested a suspect over the murder of Rebecca Dykes, a British embassy worker, after her body was identified on Sunday.
A senior Lebanese security source said that the man detained on suspicion of murdering Dykes is Lebanese and a driver for Uber and has previous criminal violations. He is reported to have confessed to the killing.
An Uber spokesman said in an email: “We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family. We are working with authorities to assist their investigation in any way they can.”
Dykes, 30, was found on Saturday, having gone missing after a night out with friends on Friday evening.
A senior official said on Sunday that the crime did not appear to be political.
“Our first impression is that it’s not politically motivated,” said the Lebanese official, who is involved in the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He could not elaborate on the exact circumstances of her death.
A statement from the Foreign Office and the family provided no further details.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened,” the family said in a statement passed on by the Foreign Office.
According to Dykes’ social media profiles, she was employed by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) which also issued a statement following confirmation of her death.
“Our thoughts are with Becky’s family and friends at this very upsetting time,” DFID said, adding that the Foreign Office was working with authorities in Lebanon as the police probe gets underway.
The British Foreign Office said it was in contact with the Lebanese authorities over the incident.
The Lebanese official said her body was found “on the side of the Emile Lahoud road” just north of Beirut on Saturday evening.
A security source said that the British woman’s body had been dumped on the roadside and that strangulation was suspected as a possible cause of death because “she was found with a piece of cord around her neck”.
The British ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, said that the whole embassy is “deeply shocked”. In a tweet, he added: “My thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss.”
The whole embassy is deeply shocked, saddened by this news. My thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss. We’re providing consular support to her family & working very closely with Lebanese authorities who are conducting police investigation.
Her body was taken to Dahr al-Bashak hospital for forensic examination by the Lebanese Civil Defence, after she was discovered by police.
A security source told The Daily Star that a second autopsy was underway on Sunday evening to confirm the cause of death. The source added that the first autopsy had found the cause of death as strangulation.
She had previously worked with the British government on Libya and Iraq, according to her LinkedIn profile, and had most recently been working for the Department for International Development’s policy team in Lebanon, since January 2017.
The Iranian speedboats skim the waves as they zero in on their victim: a defenceless Saudi humanitarian aid ship. Under provocation, a Saudi frigate fires at the attackers.
All-out war quickly ensues in a blitz of missiles and bombs – but it is decidedly one-sided: Saudi technology is irresistable, and its armies are soon seen marching through Tehran as liberators – freeing citizens waving banners of the Saudi king, capturing Iran’s hated leaders and ultimately securing peace for Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.
Such is the fantasy presented by a Saudi nationalist group, the “Saudi Deterrent Force”, in a computer-generated animation that has caused waves on social media, with pro-Saudi users hailing their fictional victory over an arch foe.
The group recently changed its name from the “Saudi Strike Force”.
It is published as the leaderships of both countries vie for supremacy in proxy wars around the Middle East, most notably the catastrophic conflict in Yemen, and amid an ongoing war of words between Tehran and Riyadh that has spilled over into Saudi Arabia and its allies accusing Qatar of supporting its arch foes and imposing an economic blockade.
The six-minute video shows Saudi naval units sinking their inferior Iranian counterparts, Saudi Patriot batteries thwarting Iranian ballistic missiles, the Saudi air force laying waste to Iranian bases, and the head of Iran’s elite Qods force, Qassem Soleimani, being taken prisoner by Saudi soldiers after infiltrating his lair.
فيلم قوة الردع السعودي يوضح جاهزية القوات السعودية لردع كل من يفكر أن يعتدي على امننا ومقدساتنا:https://t.co/DXNlaEwUeJ
CGI rendering of Saudi defense, then invasion, of Iran (with capture of Gen. Soleimani thrown in for good measure) looks like someone was playing too much Command and Conquer Generals https://t.co/Lkeu9KlfYz
The video also follows in the wake of a segment broadcast by Saudi state TV channel al-Arabiya, which justified the shooting down of a Qatari passenger jet should it break Saudi airspace during the blockade.
[“As a whole, so-called “Christian Zionists” are an ignorant lot, which might account for their bizarre, bloodthirsty beliefs about Jews, Israel Messiahs. Belief in the rapture requires a reversal of New Testament scripture given in Matt. 24, where Jesus explains that the evil ones among us shall be gathered together and burned, leaving behind The Chosen, meaning that the good Christian would not want to be among those taken away “raptured.” Further on, in Matt. 24, it plainly states that “Immediately after the Tribulation” Jesus would come to minister to the surviving remnant. The idea that Zio-Christians’ love for the Jews only extends to after “Israel” is reestablished and the Jews are given the ultimatum…convert to Christianity of be destroyed. That is real brother love, I tell you.’ ]
These particular Christians firmly believe the Jewish people must control Jerusalem in order to build a third temple on Temple Mount, which is currently occupied by the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Anyone who believes Donald Trump’s announcement to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a great idea is possibly delusional, insane or a religious extremist.
Watching the former TV game show host from the Apprentice blunder through Middle Eastern politics is like watching a child searching for a gas leak with a naked flame.
Trump is playing a very dangerous game but he is being cheered on in America by 50 million evangelical Christian Zionists who believe Israel is destined to play a vital role in a Biblical prophecy which will lead to Armageddon, or the end of the world, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Apparently 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and some of the wars unfolding in the Middle East and Asia are all seen as signs heralding the coming of the end of the world and Jesus Christ’s return. These evangelicals genuinely believe they will be swept up from earth with all the bad folk being left behind as the chaos ensues.
However central to all of this is that Israel must remain a Jewish state. Salvation will be delivered through their ‘Armageddon’ belief as long as Jews maintain control of Israel and Jerusalem, and retake the Al-Aqsa mosque before Jesus can return.
Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy of death and destruction!
Evangelical Christians make up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the US and according to recent research in a Pew poll support for the Zionist State is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among US Jews with 82 percent of white evangelicals believing God gave Israel to the Jewish people.
These religious Christian extremists genuinely believe Trump’s moving the US embassy to Jerusalem could help hasten the end of the world. The truth is liberal Jews detest the conservative politics of these evangelicals nearly as much as Muslims.
However this isn’t some small, whacky sect; as I said before this is 50 million Americans so you can see why they’re extremely useful to the likes of Netanyahu and his Zionist project almost as much as they are important to Trump who wants that second term as leader of the so-called Free World!
Before any of this can happen a person called the Antichrist will rise to power and make peace in the Middle East. This good guy will promise peace and stability using his natural charm and super intellect. Believe it or not many Christian internet forums were convinced that Tony Blair was the Antichrist!
While Prince Charles is unlikely to make a public statement over Jerusalem being promoted as Israel’s capital by Trump it’s highly unlikely he would give royal approval and both the Turkish and Russian Presidents have denounced Trump’s declaration thereby ruling themselves out as contenders for the Antichrist.
It would make a good sketch for a comedy writer but sadly try convincing 50 million evangelicals that they’re totally wrong … remember these are the lot who voted Trump into power in the first place.
Hamas has said Trump’s actions have opened the gates of Hell and, for once, Christian evangelicals probably agree with them!
MOSCOW, December 16. /TASS/. Instructors from the U.S. are training at a center by the refugee camp in Syria the militants’ new units, called the New Syrian Army, which after the training will be relocated to Syria’s southern districts to fight the governmental forces there, Russia’s center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria said on Saturday.
“Despite the statements from the American side about its adherence to elimination of the IS terrorist organization (Islamic State, outlawed in Russia – TASS), the “International Coalition” continues cooperating with the remaining terrorists in Syria. <…> The U.S. instructors of the Special Operations Command tie up separate groups of militants at a training center new the refugee camp into new military units, called the New Syrian Army. The U.S. instructors, according to refugees returning home, are saying after the training the new units would be relocated to Syria’s south to fight the Syrian governmental forces there,” the center said.
“According to refugees returning home, the international coalition has been using that camp for more than six months as a training base for militants, who come there from Syria’s various districts. Most militants, the locals from the refugees camp say, used to be members of the terrorist groups, destroyed by the Syrian governmental forces – IS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. As of today, at the camp are about 750 militants, who have come from Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Abu Kamal and the Euphrates’ eastern areas. The grouping’s base are more than 400 IS terrorists, who with support from the U.S. fled Raqqa in a convoy in October,” the center said.
According to the center, the refugee camp is 20km northeast of al-Shaddadi, the Al-Hasakah Governorate.
[I am a lifelong gun lover/owner, owned my first gun at 7 or 8, made my first kill at 6 (blacksnake, eating a nest of baby birds), and would NEVER give a gun up for political reasons. Nevertheless, the following is an excellent hypothesis, to explain our love of guns and worship of violence. Original settlers came here with the intent of taking by violence property which they could not earn with the sweat of their labor in their European homelands. The name of the religion of violence, which permeates Western culture is “American Exceptionalism”.]
“Fight for the Waterhole,” by Frederic Remington / Wikimedia
We will never know for certain who was the first person shot dead in the Americas. Visitors to Historic Jamestowne in Virginia can see the skeleton of a young man, no older than 19; the pellets of lead that killed him are embedded in a shattered knee. Known only as JR102C, the man’s identity has been the subject of much debate. The strongest theory holds that he was a dashing young military officer named George Harrison, and that he was killed in a duel.
But this European settler was hardly the first human being in the “New World” killed by a gun. Forensic scientists excavating sites in Peru have found at least one gunshot fatality nearly a century older, an Inca man shot through the back of his skull by a conquistador. He appears to have been a noncombatant, possibly executed after a 1536 uprising, his body dumped in a mass grave alongside those of women and children. Many of their remains show signs of mutilation and abuse. No one can even pretend to guess at his name or theirs.
These early cases of gun violence belong to a history of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing. As the writer and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues in her brilliant new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, America’s obsession with guns has roots in a long, bloody legacy of racist vigilantism, militarism, and white nationalism. This past, Dunbar-Ortiz persuasively argues, undergirds both the landscape of gun violence to this day and our partisan debates about guns. Her analysis, erudite and unrelenting, exposes blind spots not just among conservatives, but, crucially, among liberals as well.
These days, debates over the Second Amendment invariably turn on interpreting the connotation of “militia” in the stipulation that: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Liberals will often argue that gun ownership was always intended to be tethered to participation in institutions like the early Colonial Army or today’s National Guard. Conservatives tend to retort, in so many words, that “the people” were always meant to have guns as such, since an armed citizenry functions as a putative check on tyrannical government over-reach. When polled, a majority of Americans say they believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, regardless of participation in formal militias, whether “for hunting” or, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller, for lawful “self-defense.”
A distinguished scholar of Native American history, Dunbar-Ortiz dismisses these debates as a red herring. As she pointedly notes, at the time of the Second Amendment’s drafting, other lines elsewhere in America’s founding documents already provided for the existence of formal militias, and multiple early state constitutions had spelled out an individual right to bear arms besides. What the Second Amendment guarantees is instead something else: “the violent appropriation of Native land by white settlers … as an individual right.”
Our national mythology encourages Americans to see the Second Amendment as a result of the Revolutionary War—to think of it as a matter of arming Minutemen against Redcoats. But, Dunbar-Ortiz argues, it actually enshrines practices and priorities that long preceded that conflict. For centuries before 1776, the individual white settler was understood to have not just a right to bear arms, but a responsibility to do so—and not narrowly in the service of tightly regulated militias, but broadly, so as to participate in near-constant ad-hoc, self-organized violence against Native Americans. “Settler-militias and armed households were institutionalized for the destruction and control of Native peoples, communities, and nations,” Dunbar-Ortiz writes. “Extreme violence, particularly against unarmed families and communities, was an aspect inherent in European colonialism, always with genocidal possibilities, and often with genocidal results.”
The colonists’ use of guns was brutal. Drawing on the work of the military historian John Grenier, Dunbar-Ortiz describes how early colonists practiced what came to be known as “the first way of war” or “savage war.” Unlike war between “civilized” European nation-stations, in this mode of warfare Anglo settlers organized “irregular units to brutally attack and destroy unarmed Indigenous women, children, and old people using unlimited violence in unrelenting attacks.” Settler “rangers” pursued ethnic cleansing with the single-minded goal of depopulating land that they could then claim for themselves per a legal ownership scheme (“fee simple” land titles) that was considerably more advantageous than anything available to them on the European continent. Along the way they instituted practices like scalp-bounties.
This program of acquiring territory through genocide predated the settlers’ aspirations of independence from the British Crown. In no small part it even fueled it, since the Colonial government at times sought to restrain or at least control it. When Americans did establish independence, the program found expression in the Second Amendment, as Dunbar-Ortiz writes:
Although the U.S. Constitution formally instituted “militias” as state-controlled bodies that were subsequently deployed to wage wars against Native Americans, the voluntary militias described in the Second Amendment entitled settlers, as individuals and families, with the right to combat Native Americans on their own.
Although some readers will doubtless contest it, this is a critical intervention in debates over the Second Amendment. Instead of seeing its tortured language about the militia as a kind of archaic oddity, as something that must either be “updated” or explained away, Dunbar-Ortiz instead grounds the Second Amendment in something much bigger. She puts it at the front-and-center of the history of violence in America. This history encompasses far more than just the era of early colonization and the Revolutionary War, and Dunbar-Ortiz does not flinch from taking it on its full scope.
As Loaded proceeds, Dunbar-Ortiz traces the ways in which gun ownership has been the cornerstone of America’s growth into a “militaristic-capitalistic powerhouse.” In her account, guns are the reason that white people maintained control of the social order despite nominal changes in which parties or groups might claim power. For example, Dunbar-Ortiz notes how, in parts of the South before the Revolution, a class of armed white civilians was employed by the Colonial courts to serve as “searchers,” not just to track down fugitive slaves, but to detain freed blacks besides. Distinct from the formal militia, which was preoccupied with battling Native Americans, these “searchers,” subsequently known as “patrollers,” continued their work after the overthrow of the British, deploying a variety of tactics including the creation and printing of the first Wanted ads.
After the Civil War, these groups of armed whites morphed once more, continuing to harass and terrorize emancipated black Americans, becoming either Klansmen or police (or, not infrequently, both at the same time). For these foot soldiers of white supremacy, the titles and group affiliations might change, but their roles—and the centrality of guns to those roles—remained the same. Indeed, as Dunbar-Ortiz notes, many Confederate veterans publicly associated with each other long after the war through so-called “rifle clubs,” often barely-disguised fronts for Klan activity. Granted, at times, in such a short but information-packed book, accounts of such continuities may feel schematic; but at others, they can feel revelatory, as when Dunbar-Ortiz compares “savage war” to the rampages of contemporary mass killers. Throughout, and even when uneven, her narrative is devastating.
Loaded is also a story of many individuals. The trope of “the hunter,” for example, recurs frequently in current debates over guns, even though hunting is no longer the leading reason Americans give for gun ownership. Dunbar-Ortiz traces the common image of the gun-bearing hunter to the folk-hero image of Daniel Boone, the frontiersman whose exploits in Kentucky were the stuff of legend even during his lifetime in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet, as Dunbar-Ortiz observes, Boone’s celebrity was largely the work of another man, John Filson, a real estate speculator who wrote under Boone’s name. He simply wanted to encourage settlers to buy claims over land that was already heavily populated by Native Americans. So much for the image of the rugged American frontiersman, gun in hand, experiencing his primordial oneness with the wilderness, so beloved by gun rights advocates.
Likewise, Dunbar-Ortiz sounds the legacy of figures like pro-slavery paramilitary leader William Quantrill. Quantrill led a band of pro-slavery “bushwhacker” guerillas who carried out violent raids against pro-abolition communities in the Kansas and Missouri territories before and during the Civil War. In one instance, Quantrill and his men attacked Lawrence, Kansas, butchering some 160 civilians, including children. Yet as time passed, and it became expedient to forget and move beyond the violence of the Civil War, Quantrill and his men, who were famous for wielding six-shooter revolvers, became integrated into fuzzy legend of “the West.” They ceased to be seen as “bloody, murdering Confederate guerillas” and became “righteous outlaws.”
Some of these profiles may be richer and more-in-depth than others, but together they form a tapestry that is grim and compelling indeed. The right’s talk of preserving American greatness, Dunbar-Ortiz proposes, comes directly from this violent history. From Reagan’s race politics to Trump’s nativism, leaders on the right have articulated the principles that groups of armed American extremists practice. “White nationalists are the irregular forces—the voluntary militias—of the actually existing political-economic order,” she states, succinctly. “They are provided for in the Second Amendment.”
Among the stories Dunbar-Ortiz tells, is, fascinatingly, her own. As a Leftist activist in the 1970s, Dunbar-Ortiz participated in a “women’s study-action group” in Louisiana which was infiltrated by a government-affiliated spy, surveilled by police, and threatened by a member of the KKK. Desperate and “caught up in a current of repression and paranoia,” Dunbar-Ortiz and her comrades began to arm themselves, training with guns and eventually amassing a small arsenal. “We had fallen under the spell of guns,” she writes. “Our relationship to them had become a kind of passion that was inappropriate to our political objectives, and it ended up distorting and determining them.”
Dunbar-Ortiz eventually moved on from her phase of “gun love,” but the country has, of course, done just the opposite. Since the early ‘70s, the number of privately owned guns in American hands has nearly tripled, to well over 300 million. Meanwhile, American military forces are now deployed in some 180 countries, and our arms industry has achieved export levels and profit margins unprecedented since the end of World War II. Towards the end of Loaded, Dunbar-Ortiz presents American “gun love” as a quasi-religious phenomenon, bound up in a primal national myth of chosen-ness, victimization, and righteous violence.
It would be folly to hope that any single intellectual intervention, no matter how trenchant, could undo this template, or could reverse or slow this trajectory. And yet if we are to even imagine this possibility, we must have some sort of vocabulary to do so. As a portrait of the deepest structures of American violence, Loaded is an indispensable book.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated where JR102C is on display and when Daniel Boone was alive. JR102C is at Historic Jamestowne and Daniel Boone lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Authorities in Armenia have issued an arrest warrant for a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent who they claim plotted “terrorist attacks” against the South Caucasus nation’s senior state officials.
According to Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), they have asked security services in the United States to help them prevent the crimes allegedly planned by the unnamed individual residing in America.
In a statement released on Thursday, the NSS said the individual whom it identified as “R. K.” opened in September a Facebook account to promote a radical group campaigning for a violent overthrow of Armenia’s government. It said the account user posing as “Martin Avagyan” posted messages calling for bombings, arson attacks and even assassinations of Armenian government and law-enforcement officials that would destabilize the situation in the country and thus put “illegal pressure” on its government.
The group called Fighters for Justice (MHA) has also sought to recruit through the social media platform disgruntled Armenians willing to carry out such attacks, according to the NSS.
The security agency claimed that R.K. also actually “prepared for terrorist acts” through “accomplices” in Armenia. It said it is now taking measures to identify them.
The suspect has been formally charged under corresponding articles of the Armenian Criminal Code. A Yerevan court has allowed the NSS to arrest him or her pending investigation, said the statement.
“Given that the suspect is a U.S. citizen, resides in the U.S. and their place of residence has been established, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General has forwarded this information to relevant U.S. bodies in order to prevent the planned crimes,” it added.
The Facebook page cited by the NSS contains numerous posts and reposts extremely critical of Armenia’s political leadership. One of them is a purported September 24 statement by Fighters for Justice (MHA) saying that the nationalist group will use “guerilla methods” to “punish the pillars of the ruling regime.” It said separately that senior figures of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia and police officers guilty of human rights abuses will be the “targets” of the campaign.
In a December 6 post, “Martin Avagyan” declared that the MHA has embarked on “the second phase of the armed struggle” launched by three dozen gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan in July 2016. “Join the guerilla struggle, follow MHA statements and act accordingly,” it said.
The gunmen demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament opposition movement, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down. They laid down their arms after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead.
Later on Thursday, the Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” identified the accused man as Robert Koorkian and posted an interview with him on its website. Koorkian did not deny opening the “Martin Avagyan” account but insisted that he never plotted any violence.
“I did not and do not have any group,” said the California resident. “What I have is thoughts which people like and which have terrified the authorities.”
“They say that they have a monopoly on beating up and torturing people, while I say no,”
Koorkian also told the paper that U.S. law-enforcement officers have already questioned him in connection with the Armenian arrest warrant. “Yes, they came and interrogated me, and I explained in detail the conditions of total dictatorship in which the people of Armenia live now,” he said, adding that the officers took no further action “for now.”
[Journalist Behind Panama Papers Leak, Blown Up in Her Car In Malta]
Enemies of the State – Ranier Fsadni
Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina
In its response to the Caruana Galizia family’s legal demands, the government has stopped just short of declaring the Caruana Galizias to be enemies of the State. It has accused the widower and sons of the murdered journalist of a one-sided contemptuous attack on the Maltese State, intended to undermine its sovereignty, credibility and authority nationally and internationally.
Which is rather close to what enemies of the State like to do, at least when getting started.
At the heart of accusation and counter-accusation lies the court case begun by the Caruana Galizias two days ago. The family want Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta removed from the investigation into the assassination. The family says his involvement could prejudice its chances of obtaining justice.
In the sights of the government, however, is a much longer charge sheet drawn up by the family’s British legal advisors, the major firm of Doughty Street Chambers. It’s a 22-page document that declares the family’s human rights have been systematically broken: Daphne Caruana Galizia had insufficient police protection in the last period of her life; her family’s rights have been given scant attention by the police since the murder; and the investigation is being compromised.
Although accusation and counter-accusation have received wide coverage, some public confusion about the issues remains. The government has treated the Caruana Galizias’ charges as grave, but many of the government’s own supporters have dismissed them as trivial: the carping of a family of divas, behaving like the unreasonable hotel guest who, having received emergency accommodation during a hurricane, complains about the absence of room service.
Well, is the Caruana Galizia family simply carping when it complains of not having a police liaison officer to keep them abreast of developments, and of learning new information through the media or Twitter?
The question arises because of a dual misunderstanding. One follows from the Doughty Street Chambers’ demand for an apology.
In legal terms that means an admission of wrongdoing. But a demand for an apology is often associated with complaints about customer service. It might thus appear that the family is throwing a hissy fit about proper communication channels, despite having seen an international investigation and three men arraigned for the execution of the murder.
In fact, the families of murder victims have rights with respect to proper handling of information (the same way that the families of deceased hospital patients have certain rights to information and privacy). But the more serious misunderstanding is another.
The Caruana Galizia family’s relation to the police is not just as victim of a crime. Each family member is also a potential murder target
In this case, the family’s relation to the police is not just as victim of a crime. Each family member is also a potential murder target. They could have access to the same information that probably (and here probability is enough) led to the assassination. It has been reported that Matthew, Andrew and Paul Caruana Galizia have been independently advised to stay away from Malta for the time being.
In other words, being kept informed by the police about developments in the case – certainly before the rest of the world knows about it – is essential to the family members’ security (or at least their sense of security). They need to know as much as they can, as quickly as possible. They are not carping about a missing luxury; they are distressed by life and death matters.
They also need to be able to interpret the police leaks to the press. The family has assumed these leaks were detrimental to the successful closure of the case (some leaks, for example, gave clues to where certain vital information might be). It’s possible that the police were actually using these leaks as part of an investigative strategy. But you can’t blame the family for fearing the worst.
It has declared that the police left it in the dark and did not acknowledge several communications. By the time the family turned down the offer of a meeting on November 30, relations had long deteriorated to outright mistrust.
It’s unsatisfactory for the government simply to dismiss this part of the accusations as a one-sided attack. If it blames Doughty Street Chambers for forming an opinion only on what the Caruana Galizia family said, then the police should state its version of the facts.
Was the Caruana Galizia family really left without a police liaison officer? Were its communications really ignored for long periods?
If true, is it usual for the families of murder victims not to have a liaison officer? Selecting the Caruana Galizia family for special treatment is one kind of failing; the routine absence of a liaison officer for anyone is another, particularly if the blame is to be shared with preceding administrations.
The government, however, reserved its ire for the demand that the remainder of the case be led by external, impartial investigators because, in the words of Doughty Street Chambers: “Agents of the State may have had direct involvement in [the] assassination. It is clear that State authorities bear responsibility for the death or that they are, or may be, in some way implicated.”
From this the government has correctly concluded that the family holds it in utter contempt (if that wasn’t clear enough already), although it’s not correct that the family is also showing contempt for the magisterial inquiry and the courts.
The family’s point is principally about the police investigation: the search for whoever ultimately ordered the murder. The family doesn’t trust the police to be impartial and objective if the trail leads to someone close to the government. The police has already shrugged off investigating such people, when suspicions of money-laundering were brought to its attention by the State’s financial intelligence agency.
The government comes to another two correct conclusions.
One is that the family is effectively saying that the Maltese police are disqualified from leading an impartial investigation. However, once more, it is not correct to assume the family is demanding the investigation is led by non-Maltese. A team led by a retired police commissioner like John Rizzo would also be an external investigation.
The second correct conclusion the government draws is that the credibility and sovereignty of the Maltese State is being called into question.
That is exactly what the Caruana Galizia family is doing. It is openly stating that it does not rule out that the person(s) who ordered the assassination is a key figure in the government. Nor does it count on the police pursuing the truth wherever it leads.
However, the Caruana Galizias are laying the blame for the loss of credibility and sovereignty of the Maltese State at the door of the government. It’s evident they believe that the State, and the sovereignty of its Constitution, have been undermined by crony appointments.
The fact it has hired a prominent international legal firm shows it’s not making that accusation lightly. The Caruana Galizia family isn’t attacking the Maltese State. It is simply declaring its belief that the State is no longer its own master; that it’s the creature of those who are meant to be its servants.
In fact, the family stopped just short of declaring the government an enemy of the State.
North Korea says naval blockade would be ‘act of war’, vows action
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday warned it would take “merciless self-defensive” measures should the United States enforce a naval blockade, which Pyongyang sees as “an act of war”, the isolated nation’s state media said.
Citing a foreign ministry spokesman, the North’s KCNA news agency said a naval blockade would be a “wanton violation” of the country’s sovereignty and dignity.
U.S. President Donald Trump was taking an “extremely dangerous and big step towards the nuclear war” by seeking such a blockade, it added. It was not immediately clear what U.S. proposal the agency was referring to.
“Should the United States and its followers try to enforce the naval blockade against our country, we will see it as an act of war and respond with merciless self-defensive counter-measures as we have warned repeatedly,” the agency said.
Lebanon will get six MD 530G light attack helicopters, six Scan Eagle drones and communication and night vision equipment under a United States government $120 million aid program.
The aid is intended to boost border security and counter-terrorism work, the US ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard said on Wednesday after she met Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, local media reported.
The United States has given the Lebanese Armed Forces more than $1.5bn in assistance over the past 10 years, the embassy said.
Washington said it hopes to strengthen the Lebanese army to stop the spread of violence over the border from neighboring Syria and help it become the sole military force defending the country.
When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use – bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners – Portugal was in a state of panic.
Álvaro Pereira was working as a family doctor in Olhão in southern Portugal. “People were injecting themselves in the street, in public squares, in gardens,” he told me. “At that time, not a day passed when there wasn’t a robbery at a local business, or a mugging.”
The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olhão, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermen’s nets from the Gulf of Cádiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhão’s shores. Overnight, Pereira’s beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union. Pereira recalled desperate patients and families beating a path to his door, terrified, bewildered, begging for help. “I got involved,” he said, “only because I was ignorant.”
In truth, there was a lot of ignorance back then. Forty years of authoritarian rule under the regime established by António Salazar in 1933 had suppressed education, weakened institutions and lowered the school-leaving age, in a strategy intended to keep the population docile. The country was closed to the outside world; people missed out on the experimentation and mind-expanding culture of the 1960s. When the regime ended abruptly in a military coup in 1974, Portugal was suddenly opened to new markets and influences. Under the old regime, Coca-Cola was banned and owning a cigarette lighter required a licence. When marijuana and then heroin began flooding in, the country was utterly unprepared.
Pereira tackled the growing wave of addiction the only way he knew how: one patient at a time. A student in her 20s who still lived with her parents might have her family involved in her recovery; a middle-aged man, estranged from his wife and living on the street, faced different risks and needed a different kind of support. Pereira improvised, calling on institutions and individuals in the community to lend a hand.
In 2001, nearly two decades into Pereira’s accidental specialisation in addiction, Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission – a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker – about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.
The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The data behind these changes has been studied and cited as evidence by harm-reduction movements around the globe. It’s misleading, however, to credit these positive results entirely to a change in law.
Portugal’s remarkable recovery, and the fact that it has held steady through several changes in government – including conservative leaders who would have preferred to return to the US-style war on drugs – could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction – and itself. In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that were already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around kitchen tables across the country. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.
The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies) – became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders”. This, too, was crucial.
It is important to note that Portugal stabilised its opioid crisis, but it didn’t make it disappear. While drug-related death, incarceration and infection rates plummeted, the country still had to deal with the health complications of long-term problematic drug use. Diseases including hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver cancer are a burden on a health system that is still struggling to recover from recession and cutbacks. In this way, Portugal’s story serves as a warning of challenges yet to come.
Despite enthusiastic international reactions to Portugal’s success, local harm-reduction advocates have been frustrated by what they see as stagnation and inaction since decriminalisation came into effect. They criticise the state for dragging its feet on establishing supervised injection sites and drug consumption facilities; for failing to make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more readily available; for not implementing needle-exchange programmes in prisons. Where, they ask, is the courageous spirit and bold leadership that pushed the country to decriminalise drugs in the first place?
In the early days of Portugal’s panic, when Pereira’s beloved Olhão began falling apart in front of him, the state’s first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less “Just Say No” and more “Drugs Are Satan”.
Informal treatment approaches and experiments were rushed into use throughout the country, as doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists worked independently to deal with the flood of drug-dependency disorders at their doors, sometimes risking ostracism or arrest to do what they believed was best for their patients.
In 1977, in the north of the country, psychiatrist Eduíno Lopes pioneered a methadone programme at the Centro da Boavista in Porto. Lopes was the first doctor in continental Europe to experiment with substitution therapy, flying in methadone powder from Boston, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Ministry of Health. His efforts met with a vicious public backlash and the disapproval of his peers, who considered methadone therapy nothing more than state-sponsored drug addiction.
In Lisbon, Odette Ferreira, an experienced pharmacist and pioneering HIV researcher, started an unofficial needle-exchange programme to address the growing Aids crisis. She received death threats from drug dealers, and legal threats from politicians. Ferreira – who is now in her 90s, and still has enough swagger to carry off long fake eyelashes and red leather at a midday meeting – started giving away clean syringes in the middle of Europe’s biggest open-air drug market, in the Casal Ventoso neighbourhood of Lisbon. She collected donations of clothing, soap, razors, condoms, fruit and sandwiches, and distributed them to users. When dealers reacted with hostility, she snapped back: “Don’t mess with me. You do your job, and I’ll do mine.” She then bullied the Portuguese Association of Pharmacies into running the country’s – and indeed the world’s – first national needle-exchange programme.
A flurry of expensive private clinics and free, faith-based facilities emerged, promising detoxes and miracle cures, but the first public drug-treatment centre run by the Ministry of Health – the Centro das Taipas in Lisbon – did not begin operating until 1987. Strapped for resources in Olhão, Pereira sent a few patients for treatment, although he did not agree with the abstinence-based approach used at Taipas. “First you take away the drug, and then, with psychotherapy, you plug up the crack,” said Pereira. There was no scientific evidence to show that this would work – and it didn’t.
He also sent patients to Lopes’s methadone programme in Porto, and found that some responded well. But Porto was at the other end of the country. He wanted to try methadone for his patients, but the Ministry of Health hadn’t yet approved it for use. To get around that, Pereira sometimes asked a nurse to sneak methadone to him in the boot of his car.
Pereira’s work treating patients for addiction eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Health. “They heard there was a crazy man in the Algarve who was working on his own,” he said, with a slow smile. Now 68, he is sprightly and charming, with an athletic build, thick and wavy white hair that bounces when he walks, a gravelly drawl and a bottomless reserve of warmth. “They came down to find me at the clinic and proposed that I open a treatment centre,” he said. He invited a colleague from at a family practice in the next town over to join him – a young local doctor named João Goulão.
Goulão was a 20-year-old medical student when he was offered his first hit of heroin. He declined because he didn’t know what it was. By the time he finished school, got his licence and began practising medicine at a health centre in the southern city of Faro, it was everywhere. Like Pereira, he accidentally ended up specialising in treating drug addiction.
The two young colleagues joined forces to open southern Portugal’s first CAT in 1988. (These kinds of centres have used different names and acronyms over the years, but are still commonly referred to as Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, or CATs.) Local residents were vehemently opposed, and the doctors were improvising treatments as they went along. The following month, Pereira and Goulão opened a second CAT in Olhão, and other family doctors opened more in the north and central regions, forming a loose network. It had become clear to a growing number of practitioners that the most effective response to addiction had to be personal, and rooted in communities. Treatment was still small-scale, local and largely ad hoc.
The first official call to change Portugal’s drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. “My thought right off the bat was that it wasn’t legitimate for the state to punish users,” he told me in his office at the University of Lisbon’s school of law. At that time, about half of the people in prison were there for drug-related reasons, and the epidemic, he said, was thought to be “an irresolvable problem”. He recommended that drug use be discouraged without imposing penalties, or further alienating users. His proposals weren’t immediately adopted, but they did not go unnoticed.
In 1997, after 10 years of running the CAT in Faro, Goulão was invited to help design and lead a national drug strategy. He assembled a team of experts to study potential solutions to Portugal’s drug problem. The resulting recommendations, including the full decriminalisation of drug use, were presented in 1999, approved by the council of ministers in 2000, and a new national plan of action came into effect in 2001.
Today, Goulão is Portugal’s drug czar. He has been the lodestar throughout eight alternating conservative and progressive administrations; through heated standoffs with lawmakers and lobbyists; through shifts in scientific understanding of addiction and in cultural tolerance for drug use; through austerity cuts, and through a global policy climate that only very recently became slightly less hostile. Goulão is also decriminalisation’s busiest global ambassador. He travels almost non-stop, invited again and again to present the successes of Portugal’s harm-reduction experiment to authorities around the world, from Norway to Brazil, which are dealing with desperate situations in their own countries.
“These social movements take time,” Goulão told me. “The fact that this happened across the board in a conservative society such as ours had some impact.” If the heroin epidemic had affected only Portugal’s lower classes or racialised minorities, and not the middle or upper classes, he doubts the conversation around drugs, addiction and harm reduction would have taken shape in the same way. “There was a point whenyou could not find a single Portuguese family that wasn’t affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: ‘We have to do something.’”
Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.
“The national policy is to treat each individual differently,” Goulão told me. “The secret is for us to be present.”
A drop-in centre called IN-Mouraria sits unobtrusively in a lively, rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Lisbon, a longtime enclave of marginalised communities. From 2pm to 4pm, the centre provides services to undocumented migrants and refugees; from 5pm to 8pm, they open their doors to drug users. A staff of psychologists, doctors and peer support workers (themselves former drug users) offer clean needles, pre-cut squares of foil, crack kits, sandwiches, coffee, clean clothing, toiletries, rapid HIV testing, and consultations – all free and anonymous.
On the day I visited, young people stood around waiting for HIV test results while others played cards, complained about police harassment, tried on outfits, traded advice on living situations, watched movies and gave pep talks to one another. They varied in age, religion, ethnicity and gender identity, and came from all over the country and all over the world. When a slender, older man emerged from the bathroom, unrecognisable after having shaved his beard off, an energetic young man who had been flipping through magazines threw up his arms and cheered. He then turned to a quiet man sitting on my other side, his beard lush and dark hair curling from under his cap, and said: “What about you? Why don’t you go shave off that beard? You can’t give up on yourself, man. That’s when it’s all over.” The bearded man cracked a smile.
During my visits over the course of a month, I got to know some of the peer support workers, including João, a compact man with blue eyes who was rigorous in going over the details and nuances of what I was learning. João wanted to be sure I understood their role at the drop-in centre was not to force anyone to stop using, but to help minimise the risks users were exposed to.
“Our objective is not to steer people to treatment – they have to want it,” he told me. But even when they do want to stop using, he continued, having support workers accompany them to appointments and treatment facilities can feel like a burden on the user – and if the treatment doesn’t go well, there is the risk that that person will feel too ashamed to return to the drop-in centre. “Then we lose them, and that’s not what we want to do,” João said. “I want them to come back when they relapse.” Failure was part of the treatment process, he told me. And he would know.
João is a marijuana-legalisation activist, open about being HIV-positive, and after being absent for part of his son’s youth, he is delighting in his new role as a grandfather. He had stopped doing speedballs (mixtures of cocaine and opiates) after several painful, failed treatment attempts, each more destructive than the last. He long used cannabis as a form of therapy – methadone did not work for him, nor did any of the inpatient treatment programmes he tried – but the cruel hypocrisy of decriminalisation meant that although smoking weed was not a criminal offence, purchasing it was. His last and worst relapse came when he went to buy marijuana from his usual dealer and was told: “I don’t have that right now, but I do have some good cocaine.” João said no thanks and drove away, but soon found himself heading to a cash machine, and then back to the dealer. After this relapse, he embarked on a new relationship, and started his own business. At one point he had more than 30 employees. Then the financial crisis hit. “Clients weren’t paying, and creditors started knocking on my door,” he told me. “Within six months I had burned through everything I had built up over four or five years.”
In the mornings, I followed the centre’s street teams out to the fringes of Lisbon. I met Raquel and Sareia – their slim forms swimming in the large hi-vis vests they wear on their shifts – who worked with Crescer na Maior, a harm-reduction NGO. Six times a week, they loaded up a large white van with drinking water, wet wipes, gloves, boxes of tinfoil and piles of state-issued drug kits: green plastic pouches with single-use servings of filtered water, citric acid, a small metal tray for cooking, gauze, filter and a clean syringe. Portugal does not yet have any supervised injection sites (although there is legislation to allow them, several attempts to open one have come to nothing), so, Raquel and Sareia told me, they go out to the open-air sites where they know people go to buy and use. Both are trained psychologists, but out in the streets they are known simply as the “needle girls”.
“Good afternoon!” Raquel called out cheerily, as we walked across a seemingly abandoned lot in an area called Cruz Vermelha. “Street team!” People materialised from their hiding places like some strange version of whack-a-mole, poking their heads out from the holes in the wall where they had gone to smoke or shoot up. “My needle girls,” one woman cooed to them tenderly. “How are you, my loves?” Most made polite conversation, updating the workers on their health struggles, love lives, immigration woes or housing needs. One woman told them she would be going back to Angola to deal with her mother’s estate, that she was looking forward to the change of scenery. Another man told them he had managed to get his online girlfriend’s visa approved for a visit. “Does she know you’re still using?” Sareia asked. The man looked sheepish.
“I start methadone tomorrow,” another man said proudly. He was accompanied by his beaming girlfriend, and waved a warm goodbye to the girls as they handed him a square of foil.
In the foggy northern city of Porto, peer support workers from Caso – an association run by and for drug users and former users, the only one of its kind in Portugal – meet every week at a noisy cafe. They come here every Tuesday morning to down espressos, fresh pastries and toasted sandwiches, and to talk out the challenges, debate drug policy (which, a decade and a half after the law came into effect, was still confusing for many) and argue, with the warm rowdiness that is characteristic of people in the northern region. When I asked them what they thought of Portugal’s move to treat drug users as sick people in need of help, rather than as criminals, they scoffed. “Sick? We don’t say ‘sick’ up here. We’re not sick.”
I was told this again and again in the north: thinking of drug addiction simply in terms of health and disease was too reductive. Some people are able to use drugs for years without any major disruption to their personal or professional relationships. It only became a problem, they told me, when it became a problem.
Caso was supported by Apdes, a development NGO with a focus on harm reduction and empowerment, including programmes geared toward recreational users. Their award-winning Check!n project has for years set up shop at festivals, bars and parties to test substances for dangers. I was told more than once that if drugs were legalised, not just decriminalised, then these substances would be held to the same rigorous quality and safety standards as food, drink and medication.
In spite of Portugal’s tangible results, other countries have been reluctant to follow. The Portuguese began seriously considering decriminalisation in 1998, immediately following the first UN General Assembly Special Session on the Global Drug Problem (UNgass). High-level UNgass meetings are convened every 10 years to set drug policy for all member states, addressing trends in addiction, infection, money laundering, trafficking and cartel violence. At the first session – for which the slogan was “A drug-free world: we can do it” – Latin American member states pressed for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, but every effort to examine alternative models (such as decriminalisation) was blocked. By the time of the next session, in 2008, worldwide drug use and violence related to the drug trade had vastly increased. An extraordinary session was held last year, but it was largely a disappointment – the outcome document didn’t mention “harm reduction” once.
Despite that letdown, 2016 produced a number of promising other developments: Chile and Australia opened their first medical cannabis clubs; following the lead of several others, four more US states introduced medical cannabis, and four more legalised recreational cannabis; Denmark opened the world’s largest drug consumption facility, and France opened its first; South Africa proposed legalising medical cannabis; Canada outlined a plan to legalise recreational cannabis nationally and to open more supervised injection sites; and Ghana announced it would decriminalise all personal drug use.
The biggest change in global attitudes and policy has been the momentum behind cannabis legalisation. Local activists have pressed Goulão to take a stance on regulating cannabis and legalising its sale in Portugal; for years, he has responded that the time wasn’t right. Legalising a single substance would call into question the foundation of Portugal’s drug and harm-reduction philosophy. If the drugs aren’t the problem, if the problem is the relationship with drugs, if there’s no such thing as a hard or a soft drug, and if all illicit substances are to be treated equally, he argued, then shouldn’t all drugs be legalised and regulated?
Massive international cultural shifts in thinking about drugs and addiction are needed to make way for decriminalisation and legalisation globally. In the US, the White House has remained reluctant to address what drug policy reform advocates have termed an “addiction to punishment”. But if conservative, isolationist, Catholic Portugal could transform into a country where same-sex marriage and abortion are legal, and where drug use is decriminalised, a broader shift in attitudes seems possible elsewhere. But, as the harm-reduction adage goes: one has to want the change in order to make it.
When Pereira first opened the CAT in Olhão, he faced vociferous opposition from residents; they worried that with more drogados would come more crime. But the opposite happened. Months later, one neighbour came to ask Pereira’s forgiveness. She hadn’t realised it at the time, but there had been three drug dealers on her street; when their local clientele stopped buying, they packed up and left.
The CAT building itself is a drab, brown two-storey block, with offices upstairs and an open waiting area, bathrooms, storage and clinics down below. The doors open at 8.30am, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Patients wander in throughout the day for appointments, to chat, to kill time, to wash, or to pick up their weekly supply of methadone doses. They tried to close the CAT for Christmas Day one year, but patients asked that it stay open. For some, estranged from loved ones and adrift from any version of home, this is the closest thing they’ve got to community and normality.
“It’s not just about administering methadone,” Pereira told me. “You have to maintain a relationship.”
In a back room, rows of little canisters with banana-flavoured methadone doses were lined up, each labelled with a patient’s name and information. The Olhão CAT regularly services about 400 people, but that number can double during the summer months, when seasonal workers and tourists come to town. Anyone receiving treatment elsewhere in the country, or even outside Portugal, can have their prescription sent over to the CAT, making the Algarve an ideal harm-reduction holiday destination.
After lunch at a restaurant owned by a former CAT employee, the doctor took me to visit another of his projects – a particular favourite. His decades of working with addiction disorders had taught him some lessons, and he poured his accumulated knowledge into designing a special treatment facility on the outskirts of Olhão: the Unidade de Desabituação, or Dishabituation Centre. Several such UDs, as they are known, have opened in other regions of the country, but this centre was developed to cater to the particular circumstances and needs of the south.
Pereira stepped down as director some years ago, but his replacement asked him to stay on to help with day-to-day operations. Pereira should be retired by now – indeed, he tried to – but Portugal is suffering from an overall shortage of health professionals in the public system, and not enough young doctors are stepping into this specialisation. As his colleagues elsewhere in the country grow closer to their own retirements, there’s a growing sense of dread that there is no one to replace them.
“Those of us from the Algarve always had a bit of a different attitude from our colleagues up north,” Pereira told me. “I don’t treat patients. They treat themselves. My function is to help them to make the changes they need to make.”
And thank goodness there is only one change to make, he deadpanned as we pulled into the centre’s parking lot: “You need to change almost everything.” He cackled at his own joke and stepped out of his car.
The glass doors at the entrance slid open to a facility that was bright and clean without feeling overwhelmingly institutional. Doctors’ and administrators’ offices were up a sweeping staircase ahead. Women at the front desk nodded their hellos, and Pereira greeted them warmly: “Good afternoon, my darlings.”
The Olhão centre was built for just under €3m (£2.6m), publicly funded, and opened to its first patients nine years ago. This facility, like the others, is connected to a web of health and social rehabilitation services. It can house up to 14 people at once: treatments are free, available on referral from a doctor or therapist, and normally last between eight and 14 days. When people first arrive, they put all of their personal belongings – photos, mobile phones, everything – into storage, retrievable on departure.
“We believe in the old maxim: ‘No news is good news,’” explained Pereira. “We don’t do this to punish them but to protect them.” Memories can be triggering, and sometimes families, friends and toxic relationships can be enabling.
To the left there were intake rooms and a padded isolation room, with clunky security cameras propped up in every corner. Patients each had their own suites – simple, comfortable and private. To the right, there was a “colour” room, with a pottery wheel, recycled plastic bottles, paints, egg cartons, glitter and other craft supplies. In another room, coloured pencils and easels for drawing. A kiln, and next to it a collection of excellent handmade ashtrays. Many patients remained heavy smokers.
Patients were always occupied, always using their hands or their bodies or their senses, doing exercise or making art, always filling their time with something. “We’d often hear our patients use the expression ‘me and my body’,” Pereira said. “As though there was a dissociation between the ‘me’ and ‘my flesh’.”
To help bring the body back, there was a small gym, exercise classes, physiotherapy and a jacuzzi. And after so much destructive behaviour – messing up their bodies, their relationships, their lives and communities – learning that they could create good and beautiful things was sometimes transformational.
“You know those lines on a running track?” Pereira asked me. He believed that everyone – however imperfect – was capable of finding their own way, given the right support. “Our love is like those lines.”
He was firm, he said, but never punished or judged his patients for their relapses or failures. Patients were free to leave at any time, and they were welcome to return if they needed, even if it was more than a dozen times.
He offered no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution, just this daily search for balance: getting up, having breakfast, making art, taking meds, doing exercise, going to work, going to school, going into the world, going forward. Being alive, he said to me more than once, can be very complicated.
“My darling,” he told me, “it’s like I always say: I may be a doctor, but nobody’s perfect.”
The blast that rocked the gas hub at Baumgarten in Austria has reportedly left one dead and several injured, forcing the operator OMV to shut the facility
MOSCOW, December 12. /TASS/. Transit deliveries of Russian gas to Austria via Slovakia are temporarily suspended because of the explosion on the gas hub near Baumgarten an der March (Lower Austria) occurred on Tuesday, Slovensky Rozhlas radio station said on Tuesday.
Gas deliveries to the Czech Republic are implemented in full scope, CTK news agency said at the same time.
Natural gas supplies to Austrian regions are implemented normally, Austria’s EAA Gruppe said in its turn.
“Provision of gas to Austria after the explosion in Baumgarten is taking place from reserves in Austrian gas storages. Enterprises of EAA Gruppe prudently accumulated large gas volumes for its consumers in required quantity,” press service of EAA Gruppe said.
The explosion on the territory of the gas hub resulted in a major fire and complete stoppage of gas transportation over this gas pipeline to other country, Fire and Rescue Service of Lower Austria region said on Tuesday. The explosion occurred because of a technical malfunction, the police said.
The number of people who were wounded in the result of the explosion on the territory of a gas distribution station of Austria’s OMV near Baumgarten an der March grew to 21 people, the local police reported.
“According to the latest information, 21 people were wounded, one of them is in serious condition, one person was killed,” the police said.
The contingency affected the largest Austrian gas terminal dealing with distribution of Russian gas in Europe. Causes of the incident are investigated.
Gas supplies to Italy
Gas supplies from Russia to Italy have been temporarily interrupted, but may be resumed later in the day, SNAM gas transportation company said on Tuesday.
“Snam informs that, following the accident at a stretch of the Austrian network managed by the operator Gas Connect, gas import flows from Russia have been temporarily interrupted. On the basis of the information currently available, supplies could resume today,” the report said.
A former Facebook executive, who openly admits to not using social media, has come out about the role he played in “ripping apart the fabric of society.” Chamath Palihapitiya has publicly declared that he didn’t really understand “the consequences” of what he was doing.
This isn’t the first time a social media powerhouse has come forward with regret for helping create a social media platform either. Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, opened up abouthis regrets over helping create social media as we now know it last month. Parker has said that social media creates “a social-validationfeedback loop” by giving people “a little dopaminehit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.”
“So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.It [social media] is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years,” said Chamath Palihapitiya, the former vice president of user growth. “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Palihapitiya, who is a millionaire thanks to his role in Facebook’s growth, also admitted it wasn’t about the Russian ads. We’ve done this damage to ourselves and fueled an addiction of sorts. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he told the audience said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem—this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.” And Palihapitiya admitted to feeling guilty for his role. “I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen. But I think the way we defined it was not like this.”
Palihapitiya said he doesn’t use social media because he “innately didn’t want to get programmed.” As for his kids: “They’re not allowed to use this sh*t.” That seemed to strike a nerve too. Palihapitiya admitted that social media is “programming” the behaviors of users. “Your behaviors—you don’t realize it but you are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you are willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he told the students in the crowd. “And don’t think, ‘Oh yeah, not me, I’m fucking genius, I’m at Stanford.’ You’re probably the most likely to f*cking fall for it. ‘Cause you are f*cking check-boxing your whole Goddamn life.”
The consequences of a social media addiction were unknown until recently. Now, it certainly seems almost as harrowing as an alcohol addiction. With one in six Americans now on anti-depressants and desperately seeking attention through social media, could Palihapitiya be onto something? Has social media damaged the social fabric of our society?
No, Mr Trump. You “assume the same failed assumptions and repeat the same past failed strategies.” In contrast to the advice of his veteran foreign minister, General George Marshall, he recognized Israel as a state, thereby examining the historical injustice that allowed that state to persecute the Palestinian people and illegally occupy their lands and other Arab lands. The bloodshed and unrest followed Truman’s opportunistic decision to win an electoral victory. The bloodshed and unrest will follow your opportunistic decision to gain an electoral gain.
No, Mr Trump. Your job is not in the interest of the United States. Your job has made you give up your promise to the Islamic nation at the Riyadh summit when “the partnership based on interests and values was offered to a better future for all of us.” Where is the partnership that you promised in your unilateral and wrong decision?
No, Mr Trump. Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. Your country was one of the architects of Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council, which clearly states “the illegality of the acquisition of territory by war”, which is one of the most important principles of international law, in support of subsequent Security Council resolutions. East Jerusalem is a land captured by Israel by war. Ignoring this truth is a deliberate attempt to deceive and impose “misleading news” on the truth that the whole world knows and accepts only you and the right-wing extremists in Israel, the United States and other countries.
No, Mr Trump. Israel is not the democracy that applauds it. You only have to ask Muslims and Christians who live there and suffer persecution and rob them of their rights. You can also ask Muslims and Christians who live under the brutal occupation imposed by Israel and allow its citizens to steal their land, assassinate their children and imprison their children, women and captives.
No, Mr Trump. Your work contradicts your saying that “you do not give up on the strength of the forces to achieve a permanent peace agreement.” How did you arrive at this conclusion in logical logical sequence? How can you achieve a “lasting peace” as you adopt the illegal claim to the occupied territories of one of the parties? How do you claim that “you have not taken any decision on the final status issues of the negotiations, including the limits of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or on the disputed border” and you agree with Israel’s illegal claims otherwise? No, Mr Trump. On the contrary, your decision encouraged the most extreme forces in Israeli society to justify their arrogant claims to all of Palestine because they take your decision to expel all Palestinians from their land and impose a state of bondage on them. And your decision has encouraged Iran and its terrorist followers to claim that they are defending Palestinian rights in the face of the imperialist goals of America and Israel: Where is the future of peace and security for the region? And the forces of terror now wasted find a dose of revival of you are active polarization of volunteers and the expansion of its criminal actions against innocent people in all the world. Where “the future of peace and security is.”
No, Mr Trump. How to call for “calm, moderation, and the voices of tolerance to prevail over the promoters of the ball” and your decision is the balm that refreshes them. Your decision is what feeds them. It is the oxygen that revives them.
No, Mr Trump. Do not send your deputies to us. We will not welcome him. If you want to correct your fallen and arrogant mistakes, you can declare your recognition of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Otherwise, Vance words flattery that addresses us. We have learned from the people of what has come to be called America that “the white man speaks with two tongues.” We have known that phrase since 1917.
Our King, Crown Prince, our government and our people condemn your work, and our King advises you to return. For world peace and security, I hope you will listen to his advice.
The paramilitary wing of influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Monday agreed to disband its forces and hand over its cache of weapons to the Iraqi government, making it the first Shia militia to lay down its arms in the aftermath of Islamic State’s defeat in the country.
During a televised speech Monday, Mr. al-Sadr called upon the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi allow members of his militia, known as Saraya Al-Salam, to join the Iraqi security forces or take positions within the federal government. He also demanded Baghdad “look after the families of the martyrs” who were killed during the three-year war against ISIS via compensation and support.
Other Shia paramilitaries, such as the Iranian-backed Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’, a militia force of roughly 10,000 fighters, vowed last month to turn over any heavy weapons it had to Iraqi security forces once Islamic State had been driven from the country. Despite such promises, Mr. Sadr’s forces remain the only Shia militia under the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF banner to hand over its arms to government forces.
At its height during the fight against ISIS, Saraya Al-Salam held sway over 2,000 square kilometers of Shia-dominated territory in northern Iraq, mostly in Nineveh province. Militia spokesman Safaa al-Timeemi told the Washington Times last September that the group would acquiesce to Baghdad’s control — but only if Mr. Sadr made the order.
“We commit to the direction and orders of [Muqtada al-Sadr],” Mr. al-Tameemi said during an interview in Baghdad at the time.
“If he says we should be part of this new organization, then we will. If not, then we will not,” he said, adding the militia “are not a replacement for the [Iraqi] army but we are in support of the army,” he said.
The Sadr group’s decision to disarm comes as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF, with the direct backing of military commanders in Tehran, gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
That expanding support has allowed Iran to lock in so-called “Shia Crescent” of influence across the heart of the Middle East, assembling a network of Tehran-backed proxy forces now spanning from nation’s border with Iraq all the way to Lebanon. And in Iraq “the PMF is the guarantor” of the land bridge tying Tehran to the Mediterranean, Sarhang Hamasaeed, the head of Middle East Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told The Times earlier this month.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other Sadrists battled U.S. and coalition forces in Najaf and Sadr City during some of the worst fighting of the American occupation of the country in mid-2000. A known Shia hardliner, Mr. Sadr’s position had begun to soften as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
A September meeting between Mr. Sadr and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as an effort by Riyadh to hedge its bets against increased Iranian influence in Iraq. Mr. Sadr was reportedly invited at the time by the crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Iraq Thamer al-Sabhan, to the country for “discussions of common interest” between the kingdom and Iraq.
It was the first visit back to Saudi Arabia for the controversial Iraqi Shia cleric since 2006, al Jazeera reported at the time. Saudi Arabia officially reopened its embassy in Iraq in 2015, after a 25-year diplomatic absence in the country, according to the report.
Israel has signed a deal worth nearly 18.6 million euros with Turkey’s Anadolu Isuzu, a joint automotive manufacturing venture between Turkey’s Anadolu Group and Japan’s Isuzu Motors, to buy buses, the Public Disclosure Platform (KAP) said on Dec. 6.
“A deal to make a delivery worth 18.6 million euros has been signed with our Israeli distributor Universal Trucks Israel Ltd., the company which won the bid,” KAP said in a statement.
“The submittal of the delivery mentioned hereby is planned to begin in 2018, and is expected to be completed by 2019,” it added.
Anadolu Isuzu produces 25 different models within five segments in Turkey. While the greatest capital is spared to the midibus, which compromises one-fourth of the production share, the D-Max pick-up follows with 12 percent.
Anadolu Isuzu currently has 823 workers. Its revenue in 2016 was 830 million Turkish Liras.
In 2016, a total of 5,240 vehicles were produced, of which 666 were exported, by the company headquartered in Istanbul.
Pakistan Army Chief accepts that extremism is being taught to students in some madrassas in his country, he wants the practice to be stopped.
Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that some religious madrassas in Pakistan teach extremism to students and called for the revision of the curricula and activities of these madrassas.
This is the first time that a high-ranking officer of Pakistan military has criticizes activities of madrassas. Bajwa says the things that are taught in these madrassas distance the students from today’s education and moves Pakistan backward.
The Afghan Chief Executive’s Office said on Saturday that religious madrassas in Pakistan have been promoting insurgency in the region for many years.
“Pakistani madrassas have been used for promoting insurgency for so many years. The war that is ongoing in Afghanistan is fueled by fighters that come from Pakistani madrassas. If Pakistan takes practical actions to review these madrassas, it is good and we also expect that work should be done to prevent Pakistani madrassas from being centers for strengthening insurgency and extremism,” the Chief Executive Officer’s deputy spokesman, Jawed Faisal said.
Currently, over 200 000 madrassas have been registered in Pakistan and hundreds of others are not registered. Over 2.5 million students are learning in these madrassas.
“Arab countries’ intelligence and Pakistan intelligence have ISI mullahs such as Sami-Ul-Haq and Faiz-ul-Rahman. To create instability in Afghanistan and because of Pakistan’s deep strategic (goals) in Afghanistan, they want to create a force out of politics under the religious structure. That led to the establishment of madrassas to train mullahs,” former deputy minister to interior ministry Mirza Mohammad Yarmand said.
“It does not need a review. Pakistan should immediately take actions to eliminate the centers of insurgency training which are a threat to the world,” MP Fatima Aziz said.
Experts say that Pakistan’s history is bound with the Islamic extremism and that it is difficult to believe that Pakistan would close these madrassas.
Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to North Korea appears to be a positive signal on global efforts to defuse tension over the country’s nuclear and missile threats. Feltman, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, began a four-day visit to the North, Tuesday.
The rare trip to the isolated country by a senior United Nations official is drawing keen attention. It comes after the North test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, last week, which it claimed was capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Pyongyang declared it had completed the development of its nuclear weapons system through the successful launch of the ICBM. The launch followed its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September. These provocations have escalated the tension, raising the possibility of the U.S. using military options to solve the nuclear crisis.
Feltman’s visit carries implications for the crisis as it may offer an opportunity to open dialogue between the reclusive country and international society. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Feltman will discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with North Korean officials.
He is expected to meet Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong-guk as well as U.N. staff stationed in the North. It is unclear whether he will meet with the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. If such a meeting takes place, it may indicate that the Kim regime is interested in talks with the international body and probably with the U.S.
Feltman is also likely to talk with his hosts about a potential visit by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the North. If Pyongyang allows his visit, the U.N. chief may broker talks to find a negotiated solution to the crisis. Guterres has already shown his willingness to play a mediating role to create peace on the Korean Peninsula.
On the part of North Korea, the Kim regime may need to find an exit from the ever-rising confrontation with the U.S. and its allies. Speculation has it that the North will come back to negotiations after it completes its nuclear program. Pyongyang reportedly wants to have direct talks with Washington on the condition that the latter recognizes it as a nuclear state. But the U.S. and its allies cannot accept this condition.
For now, it is unlikely there will be a major breakthrough from the U.N. official’s mediating efforts because no one knows what the North really wants. Critics question the intention of Pyongyang’s invitation to Feltman to the country. The North may try to use his visit as a ploy to prevent the world from taking harsher sanctions against it.
Despite such skepticism, we hope that the U.N. will keep serving as a mediator to solve the North Korean issue peacefully. Feltman ought to deliver to the Kim leadership the international community’s determination not to tolerate its nuclear blackmail. And Pyongyang should drop its hostility and return to dialogue to avoid self-destruction before it’s too late.
A Russian interceptor has been scrambled to stop a rogue US fighter jet from actively interfering with an anti-terrorist operation, the Russian Defense Ministry said. It also accused the US of provoking close encounters with the Russian jets in Syria.
A US F-22 fighter was preventing two Russian Su-25 strike aircraft from bombing an Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) base to the west of the Euphrates November 23, according to the ministry. The ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov described the episode as yet another example of US aircraft attempts to prevent Russian forces from carrying out strikes against Islamic State.
“The F-22 launched decoy flares and used airbrakes while constantly maneuvering [near the Russian strike jets], imitating an air fight,” Konashenkov said. He added that the US jet ceased its dangerous maneuvers only after a Russian Su-35S fighter jet joined the two strike planes.
The major general went on to say that “most close-midair encounters between Russian and US jets in the area around the Euphrates River have been linked to the attempts of US aircraft to get in the way [of the Russian warplanes] striking against Islamic State terrorists.” He also said that the US military officials provided no explanation for the November 23 incident as well as other, similar encounters.
The statement came as a response to the Pentagon’s claims about “an increase in unsafe behavior” by Russian warplanes. “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the spokesman for US Air Force Central Command, told CNN earlier on Saturday.
Konashenkov said that any claims made by US military officials concerning the fact that there is “any part of the airspace in Syria that belongs to the US” are “puzzling.”Konashenkov also said that “Syria is a sovereign state and a UN member and that means that there… can be no US airspace ‘of its own.’ Unlike the Russian Air Force, the US-led coalition is operating in Syria without any legal basis,” he added.
Pickart also said that the US’ “greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.” Earlier, he also told the New York Times that it has become “increasingly tough for our [US] pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes.”
The New York Times also listed several cases of what the US describes as “unsafe behavior” by the Russian jets, citing the data provided by the US air base in Qatar. The US accused the Russian pilots of “crossing into the airspace east of the Euphrates” and flying “dangerously close” to the “allied forces,” adding that such actions could be interpreted as “threatening” and the US pilots were “in their rights” to fire in “self-defense.”
Konashenkov said in response that the US Air Force should rather focus on destroying Islamic State in Iraq than provoking close encounters between the US and the Russian jets.
Pickart said to CNN that the US military regularly talk to their Russian counterparts “in the daily de-confliction calls.” However, the Russian military repeatedly pointed out that the US is reluctant to share its plans for combat aircraft operations, and acts secretively in Syria.
The US and the Russian military have traded jibes over various incidents involving both countries’ warplanes in the Syrian skies. Washington accused Russian jets of not carrying transponders allowing air-traffic controllers to identify them, while Moscow repeatedly said that the US military only “occasionally” indicate the time period and an approximate area of their air operations without even giving the types of aircraft and their affiliation.
Back in 2015, the US and Russia agreed upon the mutual flight safety memorandum regulating the flight paths and contacts of the countries’ air forces in Syria during an emergency situation. The two countries also set up a hotline for their militaries to discuss the approximate locations and missions of planes in an attempt to avoid operating in the same airspace at the same time.
However, both sides later repeatedly accused each other of being reluctant to use the instruments at their disposal to reconcile the issues related to their actions in Syria. Most recently, Colonel Jeff Hogan, deputy commander of the air operations center at the Qatar base, called the daily phone calls between the US and Russian military “contentious.” The US also said that the dialogue does not always reflect what happens in the skies over Syria.
In January, Konashenkov complained that the US officers often “simply cannot be found on the other side of the ‘hotline’ in Qatar, designed to discuss and resolve contentious issues” and urged them to “use this hotline more often and for its direct purposes.”
Iraqi and Hashd al-Shaabi forces advance on al-Qaim in western Anbar province in early November. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq announced their latest offensive against ISIS in its remaining holdout in the country’s western deserts on Friday.
Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi militias “launched a major drive to clear areas of the al-Jazeera region between Nineveh and Anbar,” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
While ISIS no longer holds any urban centres in Iraq, Prime Haider al-Abadi has said he will not declare final liberation until the remote desert areas along the Iraq-Syria border are cleared of the militants.
Russia, after announcing the defeat of ISIS across the border in Syria, has offered its assistance to the US-led global anti-ISIS coalition to defeat the militant group in Iraq.
“Russia is ready for dialogue to join US-led coalition to help defeat ISIS in Western Iraq,” Russia’s Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko tweeted on Thursday, referencing the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Russia has been propping up Damascus in the civil war and providing military support for Syrian regime forces, but has not played a role in the war against ISIS in Iraq.
Kurds in Syria, who had been the key coalition ally fighting ISIS on the ground, have recently begun to strengthen their ties with Russia.
Nuri Mahmud, spokesperson of the Kurdish armed forces YPG, joined Russian military personnel on December 3 to announce the defeat of ISIS in northern Deir ez-Zor province, east of the Euphrates.
In an interview with local ANF media published on Thursday, Mahmud contradicted Russian assertions that ISIS is defeated throughout all of Syria.
“ISIS still hasn’t been completely eliminated in Syria. It wouldn’t be appropriate to assume so, and that line of thought would not serve the process either, because ISIS is still on the field in the military sense,” he said. “There needs to be a great war against that.”
He stressed however, that “the support Russia will offer to the ongoing struggle against ISIS is important for us.”
The closer relations between the Kurdish forces and Russia come as the United States has said it is adjusting its support for the YPG as the focus shifts to stabilization. Mahmud, however, asserted that their ties with the United States remain strong.
“Our partnership in the fight against ISIS continues,” he said. “This relationship will continue until ISIS is eliminated.”
The main question for Syria now is what kind of a country will be built, post-ISIS, Mahmud said.
Kurds have established a semi-autonomous federal system in northern Syria – a governance style they believe will solve the problems that drove Syria into civil war.
Turkey is opposed to the Kurdish endeavours. Ankara believes the Kurdish groups, the YPG and its political wing the PYD, are extensions of the PKK, a named terrorist organization. The YPG and PYD deny the charge.
Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield operation in summer 2016 with the stated aim of clearing its borders of terrorists – battling ISIS in northern Syria and preventing Kurds from expanding their territory.
Ankara is currently threatening military action in the western Kurdish canton of Afrin and Turkish troops are establishing observation posts in Idlib province, ostensibly as part of creating a de-escalation zone as agreed to by Turkey, Iran, and Russia in the Astana process.
Mahmud said that Turkey’s “intention to invade Syria has called the stillbirth” of its relationship with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey on December 11 to meet Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president’s spokesperson announced. Developments in Syria will be one topic on the agenda.
Then Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Brigadier General Talal Silo speaks during a press conference in Hukoumiya village, in Raqqa, Syria, on June 6. The flag of the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army, into which Silo handed himself weeks ago, appears on the right. Rodi Said/Reuters
The U.S. military allowed thousands of Islamic State militant group (ISIS) fighters to flee from their de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, in a secret deal that boosted the U.S. fight against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Pentagon-backed Kurdish commander, who has since switched his allegiance to Turkey and who spoke to Reuters.
As the spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities, Brigadier General Talal Silo acted as the face and the voice of the U.S.’s leading partner against ISIS in Syria. The U.S.-backed group successfully ousted ISIS from Raqqa in October. Weeks later, in mid-November, Silo handed himself over to Turkey, an enemy of Kurdish efforts in northern Syria. For the first time since his switch, the senior commander has spoken out and claimed that the U.S.-led coalition let significantly more fighters out of the embattled city than it previously admitted to.
“[An] agreement was reached for the terrorists to leave, about 4,000 people, them and their families,” Silo told Reuters Friday, claiming that all but about 500 who fled were ISIS fighters.
A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces holds up an ISIS flag claimed after battling the militants in Raqqa, Syria, on August 14. A high-ranking commander of the mostly Kurdish force has defected to Turkey and claimed his former comrades made a secret deal to allow ISIS fighters to flee. Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
News of a covert agreement between the Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS was first leaked last month after a BBC News investigation. The U.S.-led coalition denied being a party to any agreements, telling Newsweek it does not “make deals with terrorists,” but acknowledging that its partner had let convoys depart the city allegedly on humanitarian grounds. The BBC investigation, citing an unnamed “Western officer” who claimed he or she was present during the discussions, said 250 ISIS fighters left along with 3,500 family members, some of whom may have fled the country into neighboring Turkey.
Silo, who has not given any reason for his defection, said that his forces blocked all travel to Raqqa for three days in October, claiming ongoing clashes made movement too dangerous. In reality, he said, they were covering up the exit of thousands of ISIS fighters and hundreds of their family members.
“It was all theater,” Silo told Reuters.
“The announcement was cover for those who left for Deir Ezzor,” he added.
At the time, the eastern Syrian city was the venue for a vicious battle between ISIS and another major foe—the Syrian military. Syria’s armed forces and allied militias, including Iran-backed Shiite Muslim fighters, have been tackling a widespread uprising by insurgents—who received Western, Turkish and Arab Gulf support—and jihadis since 2011. In 2014, the Russian military intervened at Assad’s request, giving Syrian troops and their partners the momentum to retake most of the country.
As the U.S. dropped support for rebels and focused on its Kurdish partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces trying to take Raqqa, the Syrian military swept across the country toward Deir Ezzor, where a detachment of Syrian soldiers had been trapped behind ISIS lines for three years. Syrian troops, with Russian and Iranian support, broke the siege in early September and ultimately retook the entire city, the last major population center under ISIS control, in early November.
Russia has long accused the U.S. of being ineffective against and even supportive of ISIS and other jihadi groups in Syria. The U.S. has fiercely denied these claims and has charged Russia and its allies with committing human rights abuses in their campaign to defeat both ISIS and rebel groups across the war-torn country.
With ISIS having been defeated almost entirely in Iraq and Syria, both the U.S. and Russia-backed campaigns have begun closing in on what’s left of its once-expansive, self-styled caliphate. The Syrian government has managed to secure the majority of the territory it previously lost, but it still faces swaths of Kurdish control in the north and small pockets of rebel control in the northwest and southwest. In recent months, Russia has taken the lead in overseeing negotiations between Assad, the Kurds and the rebels.
The leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas called Thursday for a new “intifada” or uprising against Israel after President Trump said the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin moving its embassy to the city.
In a news conference in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya said that Washington’s decision amounted to a “war declaration against Palestinians” that “killed” the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
It came after the Palestinian “national and Islamic forces” announced three days of rage starting Wednesday and ending Friday.
“We call on all our people in Israel and around the world to gather in city centers and Israeli embassies and consulates, with the aim of bringing about general popular anger,” the joint statement said, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Trump’s controversial decision upended decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and countered long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the city, claimed by Israelis and Palestinians, would be determined in negotiations.
Staunch U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom have condemned Trump’s decision and Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, called it “irresponsible.”
Haniya said the uprising should start Friday, the Muslim holy day. “We want the uprising to last and continue to let Trump and the occupation regret this decision.”
Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas either wholly or in part to be a terrorist organization. The group killed hundreds of Israelis during the Second Intifada, an armed uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the early 2000s. Previous Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat led the First Intifada from 1987 to 1993. Hamas is currently locked in a feud with Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas was expected to travel to Jordan on Thursday to meet with King Abdullah II. The monarch, who enjoys good relations with the U.S., is seen as Abbas’ closest Arab ally, and the two leaders might try to coordinate a response to Trump’s policy change.
On Wednesday, Abbas said in an address that Washington’s move was a “reward to Israel” that encourages Israel’s “continued occupation” of Palestinian areas.
There’s a reason the U.S. Embassy in Israel has been located in Tel Aviv for decades. Here’s why moving it to Jerusalem is raising concerns across the Middle East and beyond. USA TODAY
It remains unclear how destructive any new intifada from Hamas might be. The group’s ability to carry out attacks is now more limited after Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip. Many of Hamas’ supporters in the West Bank also have been arrested.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Trump had “bound himself forever” to the history of Jerusalem by recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. He also claimed that other nations would follow suit and make a similar recognition.
Meanwhile, Israel’s military said it would deploy additional troops to the West Bank ahead of Friday, when mass Palestinian protests are anticipated in response to Trump’s move. Palestinians went on strike across the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip on Thursday and protests are expected on Friday after midday prayers.
with the promise to reclassify US “Fake News” sources, like CNN. When it came time to either put-up or shut-up, Putin caved-in, as revealed by “Foreign Agent” news service, RT, only named news sources Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and their offshoots as US “foreign agents.”]
“Yet, to feed his domestic base, Trump seems willing to kill the peace process his son-in-law is promoting. Go figure. Unless the president changes his mind, we can presume evangelical votes mean more to him than Kushner, fighting terror, or closing the ultimate peace deal.”
On the other hand, the future of Jerusalem — which would contain both the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish capitals in any plausible solution — is one of the most sensitive topics in any negotiation. And the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy places — sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims – is of concern globally. That’s why none of the 160 countries that has diplomatic relations with Israel recognizes Jerusalem as its capital.
No U.S. president has ever recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem because they all knew it would block any prospect of an “ultimate peace deal” — the kind of deal that Trump insists that he alone can produce.
“The Israelis and Palestinians have agreed that no side should take actions which preempt a final status agreement,” I was told last week by the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has met with Kushner and Greenblatt 11 times since September (while he has been recovering from a lung transplant in Virginia). “The United States can’t dictate the outcome of Jerusalem, which should be negotiated by the two sides.”
In 1995 Congress did call for the U.S. embassy to be moved to Jerusalem from its current location in Tel Aviv. But, because the issue was so sensitive, it permitted the president to issue a waiver every six months on moving the embassy, and every president since has done so — including Trump earlier this year.
Yet now the president seems willing to make a move — not just recognition, but setting in process an embassy move — that could spark a surge of anti-American violence in the Muslim world. It could fuel post-ISIS terrorism and strengthen Iran. Trump seems oblivious to pleas this week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and by close Arab allies such as King Abdullah II of Jordan — and Saudi King Salman, whom Trump considers his new best bud in battling Tehran.
Most strange, Trump seems determined to abort any Kushner peace deal before it is born.
Perhaps the president — in his determination to please his Christian evangelical backers — just doesn’t understand Jerusalem geography. I’m sure he’s been shown maps of the city, but perhaps he was too impatient to study them. So here’s a little background on why this issue is so explosive — and why Trump’s heedless behavior is so bizarre.
Jerusalem has always been holy to the Jewish people. But when the United Nations approved a plan to divide Mandate Palestine into one Palestinian and one Jewish state, it called for the internationalization of Jerusalem — because of its holiness to three billion of people of three faiths.
Arab nations rejected the U.N. plan and invaded mandate Palestine, but Israel triumphed, occupying the west side of the city, where it established its capital. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the Western Wall, holy to Jews, and the Temple Mount – holy to both Jews and Muslims.
During the 1967 war, Israel won control of all Jerusalem. But — here’s the key — since 1967, Israel has annexed the Arab areas of Eastern Jerusalem as well as the Old City — with its holy sites. It has also annexed chunks of adjacent West Bank Palestinian areas, all of which are now included into the Jewish capital.
Yet, if there ever is to be an Israel-Palestine peace, the Palestinians will want their capital to be in the Arab parts of Jerusalem. And some arrangement will have to be made about control of Jerusalem’s holy sites that satisfies both Jews and Arabs.
If Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital — even if he doesn’t use the word undivided –– he is effectively endorsing the position of the current Israeli government, which insists that none of its capital city should revert to Palestinian control. And if, as Trump has indicated, he states that the embassy will be moving, that would preclude any future negotiations — full stop.
“It will be over — the whole process,” Erekat said emphatically. “This is an issue for Arabs, and Muslims, and the world — not just Israelis.”
Yet, to feed his domestic base, Trump seems willing to kill the peace process his son-in-law is promoting. Go figure. Unless the president changes his mind, we can presume evangelical votes mean more to him than Kushner, fighting terror, or closing the ultimate peace deal.
Trudy Rubin will be reporting from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, beginning Sunday.
The official story was clear: Saudi forces shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group last month at Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. It was a victory for the Saudis and for the United States, which supplied the Patriot missile defense system.
“Our system knocked the missile out of the air,” President Trump said the next day from Air Force One en route to Japan, one of the 14 countries that use the system. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.”
But an analysis of photos and videos of the strike posted to social media suggests that story may be wrong.
Instead, evidence analyzed by a research team of missile experts appears to show the missile’s warhead flew unimpeded over Saudi defenses and nearly hit its target, Riyadh’s airport. The warhead detonated so close to the domestic terminal that customers jumped out of their seats.
The warhead appeared to explode near an airport terminal.
This side is
The missile body
Satellite image from DigitalGlobe via Google Earth
Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment. Some U.S. officials cast doubt on whether the Saudis hit any part of the incoming missile, saying there was no evidence that it had. Instead, they said, the incoming missile body and warhead may have come apart because of its sheer speed and force.
The findings show that the Iranian-backed Houthis, once a ragtag group of rebels, have grown powerful enough to strike major targets in Saudi Arabia, possibly shifting the balance of their years-long war. And they underscore longstanding doubts about missile defense technology, a centerpiece of American and allied national defense strategies, particularly against Iran and North Korea.
“Governments lie about the effectiveness of these systems. Or they’re misinformed,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst who led the research team, which shared its findings with The New York Times. “And that should worry the hell out of us.”
Shooting down Scud missiles is difficult, and governments have wrongly claimed success against them in the past.
The missile, seen in this video released by the Houthis, is believed to be a Burqan-2, a variant of the Scud missile used throughout the Middle East. It traveled about 600 miles.
Saudi and American officials have accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with the missile, a charge that Tehran denies. A recent United Nations report found evidence that the missile had been designed and manufactured by Iran, according to a Security Council diplomat. Reuters first reported the U.N. findings.
Russian jets are helping the Syrian Kurds battle remnants of Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) forces east of the Euphrates River, so that local militias and ethnic groups can restore control of the region and launch a stable political dialogue with Damascus.
In an effort to preserve the fragile social fabric of the region, and to ensure the territorial integrity of Syria, a Russian military delegation met with at least 23 envoys representing the interests of different ethnic groups living to the east of the Euphrates River.
The meeting, held in a town of Al-Salihiyah, Deir ez-Zor Governorate on Sunday, also included the officials of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia (YPG). The Kurds have recently been abandoned by Washington, despite the group’s indispensable support for the American-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
As fighting against Islamic State terrorists enters its final chapter, the Russian Air Force is working with all armed formations on the ground, trying to deal the final blow to the jihadists in Syria. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian fighters carried out 672 sorties and bombed over 1,450 targets to support the “offensive by the militias of eastern Euphrates tribes and Kurdish militias.”
The ground offensive by the militias is being coordinated from the Russian Air Force base in Khmeimim, a representative of the Russian center for Syrian Reconciliation, Major General Yevgeniy Poplavskiy, noted on Monday.
“A joint operative staff has been created in the town of Es-Salhiya to provide direct control and organize the cooperation with the popular militia units. Apart from Russian advisors, representatives of the eastern Euphrates tribes are taken part in it,” Poplavskiy said, noting that in the “coming days” the entire territory east of Euphrates River will be free from terrorists.
Mahmoud Nuri, a representative of the Kurdish YPG, stated that the militia “battled ISIS under Russian command very effectively.” Kurdish forces have also expressed readiness to ensure the safety of the Russian military specialists operating on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
Moscow hopes that once the territory is liberated people will go back to peaceful coexistence, which is why Russia is trying to facilitate the all-inclusive dialogue of different ethnic groups in the region. Russia is assisting the local tribal leaders in the formation of the Committee for the Management of the Eastern Territories of the Deir ez-Zor Province so they can form a local government that would be responsible for maintaining social order and distributing humanitarian aid. The Committee will also be tasked with demining and restoration of infrastructure, as well as guaranteeing of a safe return to refugees.
The Committee made clear that it will not challenge Damascus for the control of the territory as it considered the lands under its control as an “integral part” of Syria. On Sunday, the Committee elected Ghassan Al-Yousef to serve as the head of the organization, who immediately expressed his gratitude to Russian pilots in helping to eradicate IS in Syria.
Washington will stop providing weapons to the Syrian Kurdish militias, US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced over the weekend, as Pentagon was “changing the composition” of its assets in Syria with the military operations there entering their final stages.
“The YPG is armed and as the coalition stops operations then obviously you don’t need that, you need security, you need police forces, that is local forces, that is people who make certain that ISIS doesn’t come back,” Mattis said.
KABUL (Reuters) – A top leader of militant group al-Qaeda was killed along with 80 people in a joint military operation by Afghan army, intelligence and NATO-led forces, the South Asian nation’s intelligence service said on Tuesday.
Omar Khetab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was the most senior member of his branch of the group killed in Afghanistan, the National Directorate of Security said in a statement. Security forces also arrested 27 individuals in the operation in the eastern Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Paktia and Zabul, the agency said, without giving further details.
Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
The recent bizarre episode of Lebanon’s prime minister resigning while in Saudi Arabia and on Saudi TV sparked confusion around the world. But few may have realized how momentous and potentially dangerous the incident actually was.
It turned out to be an impulsive power play by one of the Trump administration’s most important allies in the Middle East. And it might have brought the region dangerously close to war had it not been for deft intervention by the United States and France.
At a time when the U.S. seems to be in retreat from the world stage, with many vacant positions in American embassies in crucial countries – including Saudi Arabia – and big reductions in State Department staff, this episode brought into sharp focus the U.S.’s still-essential role as an international power broker. The diplomatic response to the incident also marked France’s return to the international stage.
“U.S. diplomats and decision-makers played the major role in pushing back against Saudi Arabia’s impulsive move and identifying the pathway to defuse this crisis,” said Randa Slim, director of conflict resolution at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.
It all started when Saudi Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman decided to simply bench his Lebanese ally, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whom the prince saw as too mellow in the face of Iranian influence in the region, and replace him with his older brother, Bahaa, according to multiple sources.
President Donald Trump’s recent praise of Hariri for his efforts in the fight against ISIS plus fears that his resignation could spark a devastating war between Lebanon, specifically Hezbollah, and Israel – two matters of fundamental importance to the U.S. in the region – didn’t seem to shield Hariri from the crown prince’s new plans in the region.
Prince Mohamad was intent on rolling back Iranian interference in a more robust and direct way, and Lebanon was his arena du jour.
Thus began the high-stakes drama that played out over two weeks and which revealed both the governing style of the man expected to rule Saudi Arabia for the coming decades and the pitfalls of leaving the two competing regional powers in the Middle East — Iran and Saudi Arabia — unchecked.
The events that followed required many delicate and private diplomatic conversations, involving the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and some elaborate stage managing.
The Saudi plan
Hariri was in Saudi Arabia two days before his resignation, a visit that left him upbeat and confident and apparently with no indication that the Saudis intended to dramatically pull their support for him.
He left expecting to return within days for more meetings with the Saudi leadership, but certainly not to be instructed to resign or to be barred from leaving Saudi Arabia, according to Lebanese sources close to him. What caused the shift in tone in those 48 hours has not yet been fully established.
Nevertheless, it appears the Saudi plan, in the works for some time, was to replace Hariri with his brother, Bahaa, per multiple sources. The two have been at odds since their father, the late Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.
“Bahaa Hariri was extremely interested and angling for the position. In private discussions in Washington D.C. he was voicing his displeasure with his brother’s policies and advocating a more hawkish position against Hezbollah and Iran,” according to Firas Maksad, deputy executive director of the Arabia Foundation, a think tank in Washington.
Bahaa didn’t get the reception he was hoping for. “People weren’t too excited about him taking on Saad’s position,” according to a U.S. diplomatic source.
ABC News has asked the Saudi embassy in Washington for comment on the Hariri crisis but the request is still under review.
Hariri, who has since returned to Lebanon and put his resignation on hold says he wasn’t forced to resign and was not held captive in Saudi Arabia.
“I wanted to cause a positive shock,” he repeated, to warn Hezbollah, his partner in Lebanon’s government, of the dangers posed by its central role within the anti-Saudi Iranian axis in places like Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Countering Iran is everything
The Saudi crown prince’s gambit showed his determination to counter Iran, said Slim of the Middle East Institute.
“One principal plank in [his] foreign policy is that Saudi Arabia will deploy all resources necessary to contest Iranian influence in the region,” Slim said.
As the Saudi military has been fighting a two-year war in Yemen against Iranian-backed rebels whom it contends are aided militarily by Hezbollah, Hariri has led a government in which Hezbollah held veto power.
This was a situation the Saudi leadership was no loner willing to accept.
“The Hariri family, and its political party, has long been the main recipient of Saudi patronage, beholden both financially and politically, in Lebanon,” according to Faysal Itani, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, another Washington think tank.
So Saudi Arabia decided to call in its chips, inviting the Hariri family to visit to rubber-stamp a leadership change in Lebanon.
But the Hariris in an unprecedented show of defiance refused and called on foreign allies, namely France, for help, per sources close to the family.
Hence began 10 days of diplomatic negotiations, led by France with crucial American assistance that played out from Riyadh to Beirut and Tehran.
France steps up
This was the perfect moment for France’s ambitious new president, Emmanuel Macron, to try to reclaim the once-pivotal role his country had in the region before being sidelined by America.
France has a deep historical relationship with Lebanon and, unlike America, has also preserved diplomatic relations with Iran and Hezbollah’s political wing, in addition to having a relationship with Saudi Arabia. It used all three assets in managing this crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron made a last-minute stop in Riyadh on Nov. 9 on his way back from his state visit to the United Arab Emirates, upon the recommendation of the Emirati crown prince, a close Saudi ally.
In a meeting with Prince Mohamad, the French president mentioned the case of Hariri and Lebanon, a French diplomatic source who wouldn’t comment on the Saudi crown prince’s reaction told ABC News. “They also discussed the regional situation including Iran’s policies as well as the missile launched from Yemen on Riyadh.”
At the time of the meeting, Macron was the first high-level foreign official to link Iran to the Yemeni missile launch, a position later taken also by the U.S. military and United Nations monitors, as reported by Reuters on Nov. 30.
Macron’s early backing of Saudi’s complaints against Iran helped to open communications. But it wasn’t enough to resolve the Hariri situation that day.
A video posted to the French president’s Twitter account showed him thanking the Saudi crown prince for making the time to see him, a respectful deference that is appreciated in Saudi Arabia.
Around the same time, the United States, seemingly absent from the management of this crisis, worked behind the scenes to deal a crucial blow against the Saudi plan.
US deals death blow to Saudi plan
On Nov. 10, Thamer al Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, who also oversaw policy toward Lebanon, met with David Satterfield, the top U.S. official on the Middle East at the State Department. It was a rocky meeting, in which Satterfield made it clear that the U.S. did not support the Saudi handling of Hariri.
While the U.S. administration agrees with the Saudi leadership on the need to more robustly confront Iran and Hezbollah, it advocates a more calibrated approach in Lebanon, mindful that a disintegration of the state there would complicate American efforts to both resolve the Syrian crisis and continue stabilizing Iraq.
Sabhan received the same message from the U.S. National Security Council, according to two Lebanese sources and one American official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to comment publicly. Both the State Department and the NSC had no comment when contacted by ABC News.
The Saudi minister was asked to take a step back shortly after meeting with the U.S. official, but it was just a tactical adjustment, according to Maksad of the Arabia Foundation. “The Saudi position remains that it is unacceptable for its ally in Lebanon, namely Hariri, to provide political cover for Hezbollah.”
Nov. 10 also marked the first time that a foreign official indicated Hariri may not be fully free in Saudi Arabia, with a French foreign ministry spokeswoman saying, “We wish for Mr. Hariri to have his full freedom of movement and be fully able to play the essential role that is his in Lebanon.”
This came after Hariri met with the U.S. charge d’affaires and the French ambassador in Riyadh. Lebanese sources close to Hariri maintain he was monitored in these meetings by a Saudi note-taker, a highly unusual presence in diplomatic conversations in which Saudi Arabia is not involved. The French foreign ministry would not comment on that.
Later that afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed support for Hariri as prime minister of Lebanon, and in an apparent reference to both Saudi and Iranian interference in Lebanon, cautioned against, “using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts.” He also encouraged Hariri to return to Lebanon and officially step down, discrediting assassination-plot fears that Hariri had mentioned in his resignation speech.
The next day, the White House joined the chorus of support for Hariri when it put out a statement referring to him as a “trusted partner.”
“The U.S. policy remains to push back against Iran and its proxies,” says Itani of the Atlantic Council, “but since doing it in Iraq and Syria, where it matters most, comes at the highest cost, it is doing it by supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen, by imposing calibrated financial sanctions against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and by supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces.”
With such open U.S. support for Hariri, the Saudi leadership realized its initial plan wouldn’t succeed.
France and art of compromise
France leveraged its lines of communication with Hezbollah and Iran as well as its relationship with Saudi Arabia to work on achieving a satisfactory compromise while also managing the optics of the delicate operation.
On Nov. 12, Hariri gave his first interview since his resignation. It was conducted by the star anchor of his own television network at the home he owns in Riyadh. This was the first step toward ending the crisis, per a French diplomatic source. But there were still thorny negotiations ahead that required careful stage managing.
That same day, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and his chief of staff, the former French ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuel Bonne, who was involved in managing the crisis, planted a Lebanese cedar tree in the garden of the French foreign ministry in Paris.
“Of course this was highly symbolic. Choosing to plant a Lebanese cedar, at that moment, was meant to signal France’s deep-rooted relationship with and attachment to Lebanon’s stability and integrity,” per the French diplomatic source.
Le Drian was expected in Riyadh three days later to discuss bilateral interests as well as find a solution to the Hariri crisis. This involved ongoing negotiations over his return to Lebanon and the elaboration of the plan to put his resignation on hold. Just as he was arriving, Macron offered Saudi Arabia a face saving end to the Hariri fiasco. He explained in a statement that he was inviting Hariri and his family to spend a few days in Paris, after having discussed the matter with the Saudi crown prince.
By the time Le Drian left Riyadh the evening of Nov. 16, French diplomats felt confident they had worked out a deal with Saudi leadership and Hariri would head to Paris two days later.
The need for France to stage-manage the Hariri-Saudi relationship didn’t stop then, though. Hariri’s family, who is based in Saudi Arabia, was publicly hosted twice at the Elysee, in an effort partly aimed at dispelling concerns for their well-being in the Kingdom. Yet, speculation has persisted in Lebanon that Hariri’s wife and school-aged children will remain in Paris, instead of returning to Saudi Arabia where they have spent all their lives, as result of what is perceived as a souring of the relationship.
Negotiating a regional compromise
Many in Lebanon have noted the irony of Hariri’s need for French assistance to return to Lebanon on the eve of the country 74th anniversary of independence from France. Yet securing his return was not the thorniest part. Reaching a regional agreement that would shield Lebanon from the larger conflict is an uphill battle.
There were some initially encouraging signs though. On Nov. 20, two days before Hariri’s return to Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave the most noteworthy rhetorical concession to date, announcing in a speech, “I categorically deny any role of any member of Hezbollah in launching this missile.” Nasrallah also toned down his inflammatory rhetoric toward Saudi Arabia. This helped allow Hariri to put his resignation on hold.
Nevertheless, that was followed by consecutive defiant and inflammatory statements by Iranian and Saudi officials, continuing to stoke tensions between the rival regional powers. Meanwhile, Hariri’s ongoing rapprochement with pro-Iranian parties in Lebanon, marking the failure of the Saudi gambit, has renewed Lebanese fears of punishing Saudi-led financial measures against the country. France is expected to host a meeting of the Group of International Support for Lebanon this week, as part of its continued efforts to bring about a compromise and stabilise the situation.
“Their plan to replace Saad Hariri with someone who espouses a tougher and more confrontational line against Hezbollah has backfired,” said Slim. “If the objective was to push the Lebanese to rally against Hezbollah, this move did exactly the opposite: It diverted attention away from Hezbollah and focused it instead on the humiliating and arrogant Saudi treatment of Hariri.”
Though Hariri has called the role Macron played in the crisis “historic,” the crisis is not yet over. The deal still being worked out for Lebanon depends on precarious agreements, vulnerable to Saudi-Iranian tensions that, despite the efforts of French mediation, continue unabated.
BEIRUT, LEBANON (4:45 P.M.) – With little forewarning or expectation, scores of militants across Syria have suddenly surrendered to Syrian government forces today, taking up a long-standing reconciliation deal that remains in effect after many years.
In the province of Daraa, around 100 militants belonging to Free Syrian Army-linked Al-Omari Brigades surrendered to Syrian Army forces, leaving their defensive positions in the Lajat area of the region and approaching government troops at the city of Al-Sanmein.
According to sources, the surrender militants are from the town Shiaara in Daraa’s northern countryside. The rebels themselves claim that they are fed up with the war and just want to return to a normal civilian life.
In the far south of Homs province near the Jordanian border, more than 50 civilians and rebels fighters left the Rukkban refugee camp and crossed the Syrian desert towards Syrian Army lines, handing over their weapons and themselves to government forces.
From here, the militants – most of them being native to the oasis town of Al-Qarayatayn – were transported by Syrian authorities to Al-Sawwanah in eastern Homs.
As with all surrendered militant forces, the service record of the ex-rebel fighters will be vetted to make sure they were not involved in any war crimes. So long as no evidence of involvement in war crimes is found, the surrendered militants will be allowed to return to civilian life.
The government has suspended a multimillion-pound foreign aid project amid allegations that money paid to a contractor in Syria was reaching the pockets of jihadist groups.
The plug was pulled on the scheme funding a civilian police force following claims its members were being made to hand cash to extremists.
Officers from the Free Syrian Police were apparently also working with courts accused of torture and summary executions according to allegations made in a BBC Panorama documentary due to air on Monday evening.
The Foreign Office confirmed on Sunday night that it had suspended access to the justice and community security scheme (Ajacs), which has been running since late 2014, following grave concerns about its management by the British contractor, Adam Smith International.
Britain is one of six countries supporting the community-led police force set up after the Syrian uprising and stationed in regions held by opposition rebels.
According to documents seen by Panorama, police officers in Aleppo province were forced to hand over cash to the extremist group in control of the area, Nour al-Din al-Zinki.
The programme, Jihadis You Pay For, also claims that the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, had handpicked police officers for two stations in Idlib province. Other evidence suggested dead and fictitious people were on the force’s payroll.
When the company visited one police station, supposedly the base for 57 police officers, it could not find a single officer, the investigation found. The contractor said it accounted for the officers on subsequent visits and that it had found very few instances of dead officers remaining on the salary list in Syria.
It said it used cash because there was “no practical alternative” and that officers imposed by Jabhat al-Nusra were detected within two months.
Payments to the stations funding the extremist group Nour al-Din al-Zinki were stopped in August 2016, it added.
In a statement published on Sunday, Adam Smith International said Panorama’s allegations about the Ajacs project were “false and misleading”.
It said: “ASI has managed the project successfully alongside our partner in an extremely challenging high-risk environment under the close supervision of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and five other governments.”
Kate Osamor, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international development, said that if the allegations were true, British taxpayers would be “rightly outraged”.
She said: “We need to understand how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office allowed this to happen, and why their mechanisms for properly managing aid projects failed.
“The opaque Conflict, Stability and Security Fund that financed this project also operates in 70 other countries – many with questionable human rights records.
“This investigation is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg: the government must now open up its books so the public can understand the true extent of the problem.”
Funds come from Britain’s £13bn foreign aid budget which is allocated largely by the Department for International Development but also spent by other departments including the Foreign Office.
An FCO spokesman said: “We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously and the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations.
“We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this judgment carefully given that in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk. That is why all our programmes are designed carefully and subject to robust monitoring.”
This undated photograph released by the United Arab Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency, shows the under-construction Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi’s Western desert. The UAE on Sunday denied a claim by Yemen’s Shiite rebels that a rebel-fired missile targeted the plant. (Arun Girija/Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation/WAM via AP)
SANA’A, Dec. 3 (Saba) – The missile force of the army and popular forces on Sunday fired a winged cruise missile toward a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.An official at the missile force said that the missile targeted the al-Barakah nuclear reactor in Abu Dhabi, that attack came after an successfully test of the missile at the end of last August.
The official said that the missile hit the reactor accurately.
It is noteworthy that the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant comprises four nuclear reactors located in the western region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and overlooks the Arabian Gulf, about 53 km southwest of Ruwais city.
GENEVA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s government delegation quit U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva on Friday and said it would not return next week unless the opposition withdrew a statement demanding President Bashar al-Assad play no role in any interim post-war government.
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arrives for a meeting during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva, Switzerland December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
“For us (this) round is over, as a government delegation. He as mediator can announce his own opinion,” government chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja‘afari said after a morning of talks, referring to U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura.
“As long as the other side sticks to the language of Riyadh 2 … there will be no progress,” Ja‘afari said.
He was referring to a position adopted by Syrian opposition delegates at a meeting in Riyadh last week, in which they stuck to their demand that Assad be excluded from any transitional government.
Ja‘afari went further in a televised interview with al-Mayadeen TV: “We cannot engage in serious discussion in Geneva while the Riyadh statement is not withdrawn.”
De Mistura put a brave face on the impasse, saying in a statement that he had asked the delegations to engage in “talks next week” and give their reactions to 12 political principles.
Previously there had been some speculation the opposition could soften its stance ahead of this week’s Geneva negotiations, in response to government advances on the battlefield.
The Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes. So far all previous rounds of peace talks have failed to make progress, faltering over the opposition’s demand Assad leave power and his refusal to go.
Pressed whether the government delegation would return to Geneva next week, Ja‘afari replied: “Damascus will decide.”
Ja‘afari said the statement insisting Assad leave power that was adopted by the opposition in Riyadh ahead of this week’s peace talks was a “mine” on the road to Geneva, and the opposition had purposefully undermined the negotiations.
“The language with which the statement was drafted was seen by us, the Syrian government, as well as by too many capitals, as a step back rather than progress forward, because it imposed a kind of precondition,” he said.
“The language is provocative, irresponsible,” he said.
The opposition, which held brief talks later with U.N. officials, rejected the charge that it was seeking to undermine the talks, and said it sought a “political solution”.
“We have come to this round with no preconditions,” opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi told reporters.
“Now, not coming back is a precondition in itself. It’s an expression or a reflection of a responsibility toward people who have been suffering for seven years now,” Aridi said.
Nasr Hariri, the opposition delegation chief, said earlier on Friday that his side had come to Geneva for serious, direct negotiations with Assad’s government. So far, government and opposition delegations have not negotiated face-to-face in any Syrian peace talks but have been kept in separate rooms.
“We call on the international community to put pressure on the regime to engage with this process,” Hariri said in a statement.
De Mistura said on Thursday the talks would run until Dec. 15, but the government delegation might return to Damascus to “refresh and consult” before a resumption probably on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Issam Abdallah, Tom Miles and Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Editing by Mark Heinrich
It is no secret that the last couple decades saw an abrupt increase in the number of private military companies or private security contractors (the so-called PMCs), the overall budgets of some of which can easily surpass the military budgets of certain sovereign states.
The turning point in the creation of those companies occurred in 1995 during the military operations conducted by the Armed Forces of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina against the Serbian troops, when the right to carry on hostilities was outsourced by a number of security contractor firms.
There can be no second opinion about Washington’s being the most adept at employing the PMC concept, since with the number of wars the US has been waging against other states, the Pentagon needs spare hands to do the dirty work so that Washington’s official losses are kept to a minimum.
American intelligence agencies were quick to comprehend in the mid-90s that they would need a lot of private contractors if they were to carry on their dubious operations across the globe over the next couple decades. Therefore, the Pentagon started motivating various companies to outsource a wide range of military tasks. As a result, over the last decade alone the US military department has signed more than 3 thousand contracts with PMCs.
Today, PMCs are operating more than 90% of all drones that US Air Force and Navy have together, they are also engaged in reconnaissance missions, data analysis, along with developing of promising technologies and materials, on top of providing routine military training, convoy escorts, and air cargo support. In May 2007, the US government disclosed for the first time the total amount of funds allocated for PMCs by American intelligence agencies, with the total amount reaching 33.6 billion dollars. In January 2015, the US Central Command published statistics on contract employees of PMCs, specifying that CENTCOM alone employs more than 43 thousand individuals that fulfill all sorts of contracts, of which no more than 17 thousand are American citizens, with the rest being natives of UK and Australia.According to rough estimates, the PMC market value exceeds 150 billion dollars. As for the continuous increase in the actual number and their value, it can be attributed to an ever-expanding share of “secret operation” deals among those that Washington keeps on signing.
Although the existing US legislation has set in stone the principle that “the most complex and sensitive tasks shouldn’t be fulfilled by private organizations,” when it comes to the situation on the ground, we witness quite the opposite happening.
This notion has recently been confirmed by the Daily Mail as it reported on the activities of the Academi PMC, which was formerly known under its scandalous name of Blackwater. According to these revelations, Academi contractors were engaged in torturing and physically abusing the members of the Saudi royal family and those businessmen who were detained along with them in Saudi Arabia in early November. According to the publication, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally participated in the said interrogations thanks to the dubious services provided to him by Academi. As a result of these interrogations, the Crown Prince received a total of 194 billion dollars in “voluntary donations” from those whom he was questioning.
One can recall that Saudi law enforcement agencies arrested a total of 11 princes, four ministers and several dozens of former ministers and prominent businessmen on charges of corruption. Among those arrested, one could find one of the richest men on the planet – Al-Waleed bin Talal. Earlier the Middle Eastern and Western media leaked details about the harsh treatment that the detainees were exposed to, regardless of their social status or previous achievements. Thus, the newspaper The New York Times has already reported that at least 17 prisoners among those arrested on suspicion of participating in corrupt schemes were brutally beaten.
Another example of Washington’s privatization of “right on violence” is the organization of deliveries of lethal weapons to both the areas of armed conflicts, which is prohibited by international law, as well as to those regions where extremist and terrorist groups haven’t started violence yet.
Thus, in spite of Washington’s continuous claims that there has been no instance of American lethal weapons being delivered to Ukraine, Western PMCs have been delivering them to Ukraine for over two years now. For instance, AirTronic PMC has been delivering American-made grenade launchers to Kiev for a long while as it’s been confirmed by its CEO, Richard Vandiver, in his interview with Voice of America. In particular, he specified that the companies initiated such deliveries last year and have been carrying on them until this very day. He added that such deliveries have been coordinated by the US Embassy in Kiev, in close cooperation with the State Department, the Pentagon and the Ukrainian government.
Since other American PMCs have been fulfilling similar contracts in other regions of the world, one shouldn’t be surprised to see a picture of a radical terrorist armed with top-notch US weapons systems, especially when they’re operating in Syria and Iraq. Almost one and a half thousand fully loaded trucks worth of weapons was delivered to the terrorists of ISIS, as it’s been announced by the Syrian Defense Ministry earlier this year. Automatic weapons and grenade launchers produced in American are pretty common among the radicals that the Pentagon has been unofficially supporting. All this has already been proven true, as tons of units of such weapons have already been confiscated from radical militants.
Despite the presence of a wide range of international actors, modern geopolitics is far from being public. A significant role is played by behind-the-scenes actors and secret deals, which are then fulfilled by all sorts of PMCs. Thus, we have found ourselves in an age when private companies are capable of influencing individual countries and even whole regions. This, in particular, confirms the involvement of American PMCs in the torture of representatives of the Saudi elites and the ongoing US-made arms deliveries to the Middle East, Ukraine, Afghanistan.
In 2008, the status of PMCs was clarified in the so-called Montreux Document that was signed by a total of 17 countries. This document contains rules of engagement for those companies and regulates their operations in conflict zones. According to this document, the state that hosts a private military company bears full responsibility for its actions in various regions of the world.
What this basically means is that Washington will not be able to escape responsibility for the crimes committed by its contractors somewhere behind-the-scenes.
Maldives, a country situated at the south-southwest of India having a population of approx. 3, 92,709, has been making rounds on international front since the sentencing of ex-president Mohammed Nasheed for 13 years on the charges of terrorism. Afghanistan is located in the heart of Asia and it certainly has serious geopolitical interests in the Indian Ocean region. The diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and the Maldives was established on March 17, 2006. Recently an informal peace talk with Taliban was held in Maldives which could be brought back to our attention but it accrued no development in any sense and it went on to such an extent that Afghan government officials made it clear that there had been no such official talks. Maldives has many a time made its stance clear on supporting the peace process in Afghanistan as it has been reiterated many a time by its diplomats at the UN and other multilateral engagements . Maldives is a concern of all the Asian nations as major part of the oil and energy seaborne trade crosses the Indian Ocean region where this archipelago of 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls sits at the strategic location. At this point, it is crucial to assess the relations between Afghanistan and the Maldives as the growing radicalism in the Indian Ocean country can act as a serious impediment to the stability of the whole Asian region including Afghanistan.
SECURITY PERSPECTIVE- LOOMING ANATHEMAS
Since the ascension of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom as the president of Maldives, radicalisation in the Maldives is on a high rise. Yameen Rashid, a 29 years old blogger, who went vociferous against Islamic radicalization was stabbed to death and it has consequently raised the security concern as this was an outright reflection of growing radicalism in the country where liberal and moderate Islam has taken a back seat. In January 2017, the government released a policy that included providing instructions to tourism companies to facilitate tourists with written rules on how to conduct in a Muslim country. It is justified to introduce such measures but turning a blind eye to the real concern brings some doubt. Such actions on the part of government explicitly make it clear that instead of taking serious measures against radicalisation, the government is trying to accommodate radicalism and tourism in order to benefit from both. Undoubtedly, the government’s portrayal of ex-president and its party as Christian missionaries or anti-Islamic secularists has injected the thoughts of youths with radical and extremist Islamic values which would be detrimental to any future government with liberal Islamic values [SEE: Maldives: ‘Pro-Israel President booted out’–ed. note*]. Moreover, a court sentenced a woman who was accused of adultery to death by stoning. Though the order was later annulled by the higher court but it reflects the extremist beliefs of judges and other officials in remote islands and in Malé, too. All these developments aptly suggest that Maldives is on the brink of being radicalised and launched as another hotspot for Wahhabi militancy. The Daesh influence in Iraq and Syria is drawing near to an end as the Iraqi forces have launched an offensive in Anbar which is one of the last remaining areas under their hold. Arabisation of the population at the hands of Maldivian government is pouring sympathy in the heart and mind of youths and elders alike for extremists fighting the western domination of Muslim lands and is making Maldives a fertile ground for recruitment.
About more than two hundred Maldivians are supposed to have fled to Daesh territories in order to achieve martyrdom under the self-claimed Caliphate. According to few of Maldivians who had joined Jabhat al-Nusra front in Syria, they emphasized that Maldives is not the only strategic point for them as they want to establish themselves in the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, Daesh has suffered ignominious defeat at the hands of Peshmerga and Iraqi forces which include Popular Mobilization Force (Iran backed Shia Militias) in Iraq and are on retreat as only a few villages are left to be freed from them. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Daesh), suggestively, has presence in Afghanistan so it provides returned extremists including Maldivians a platform to continue the war for caliphate and also fighting the US and NATO forces there. Through the Indian Ocean, it is easy for the jihadists to infiltrate Pakistani territory and ultimately making it to Afghanistan or acting from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region. The vulnerability is well-apprehended because of the vast unprotected Indian Ocean region and Pakistan’s ambivalence attitude towards peace in Afghanistan. It is call of the time that Afghanistan must cooperate and negotiate with India and US alliance in the Indian Ocean so as to exchange proper intelligence regarding the movement of extremists in the Ocean region which is another transit alternative for extremists other than air and also to contain drug-trafficking taking place through the ocean. Direct talks with the Maldives government shall not be propitious considering the fact that government itself is propagating the radical ideology and supporting Salafist parties and institutions for its own political gains which is not for the purpose of inclusivity but to remain in power.
AFGHANISTAN AND MALDIVES AT THE UN
Afghanistan has secured a seat at the UN Human Rights Council for the term of two years period starting in 2018. Maldives did contest but because of getting only four votes, it pulled itself out of the league. Looking at the human rights scenario in Maldives one can very easily discern that the violations are extremely egregious and so, many countries have denied Maldives any further role in Human Rights Council. The sentencing of ex-President Mohammed Nasheed for thirteen years on the charge of terrorism is alleged globally to be against the principle of fair and natural justice i.e. the due process which everyone is entitled to. The independence of the judiciary has been misconstrued in Maldives as it is interpreted as if it is a privilege of a judge, and not a responsibility to decide the case fairly with due process and not out of some external influence. The passing of Anti-defamation and Freedom of Speech Act is an absolute encroachment upon the rights of every human as enshrined under Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This act criminalizes all such expressions that contradict a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms etc. It passively serves the government in power at present as they can easily mow down any voice or press which expresses such dissent that can jeopardize the government’s interest. Flogging is still rampant as a punishment in Maldives and Yameen’s government seems to go easy with it. Leaving the Commonwealth while blaming it for interfering in the domestic matters of Maldives is another excuse for not bringing an end to its human rights abuse which started with the detention of ex-President Mohammed Nasheed. It has secured only four votes for membership of UN Human Rights Council this year and this expresses the common dissent among international community against the human rights abuses by Yameen’s government.
As Afghanistan is about to sit at the UN Human Rights Council, it is its paramount responsibility to bring up the human rights abuses in the region to the front and at the same time improving human rights scenario domestically. The human rights abuses in Maldives have been so egregious and gross that it threatens the democratic values and Afghanistan, as a member of Human Rights Council, has to monitor and report all these abuses so as to gain the trust of those nations which see Human Rights Council as a ‘feckless haven for human rights abusers’. It is an opportunity for Afghanistan to consolidate its image as a human rights advocate which will surely accrue it a commendable position in international community and most probably provide it a Launchpad to contend for a non-permanent seat at UN Security Council in future that will entirely depend on Afghanistan’s credibility at different institutions and committees of the United Nations. Although domestic human rights scenario stands on the top of all priorities for Afghanistan but advocating, monitoring and investigating the same in the region is extremely important to consolidate trust and gain credibility.
Maldives has officially announced its candidature for UNSC election to be held in 2018, but it seems like Afghanistan would vote for another candidate i.e. Indonesia as the mutual ties between Indonesia and Afghanistan has always remained on a vigour strength. The latest visit to Afghanistan by Retno Marsudi, Foreign Minister of Indonesia hints that the relations are going to be even stronger than it has been in the past. But nevertheless, Maldives has been at the forefront of advocacy concerning climate change policies and Afghanistan should stand side by side supporting Maldives on such crucial issues at the United Nations.
ENGAGEMENT AT REGIONAL AND SUBREGIONAL INSTITUTUIONS
Back in 2010, Maldives National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MNCCI) and Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce & Industries (ACCI) collaborated together signing a MoU in order to provide a forum for more systematic business promotional activities in trade, investment and other industrial sectors. It was aimed to serve as a platform for the businessmen and investors of the two countries where they could discuss the business and trade matters. In 2014, ACCI chaired the 5th South Asia Conference which focused on “New Opportunities in Infrastructure Construction and Development of South Asian Countries”. Around 80 delegates including those from Maldives participated in the conference.
But recently, there has been a paradigm shift in the attitude of India regarding SAARC since last year’s SAARC Summit Boycott, a reaction against Pakistan’s safe harbouring of terrorists on its land, and this step was supported by Afghanistan and later, even Maldives came in India’s support. At present, one can witness a shift of India’s attention from SAARC to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) as it hosted a meeting of security chiefs from all the seven members of BIMSTEC earlier this year. India seems to be paying more attention to sub-regional institutions rather than SAARC. It raises a question with regard to the future of SAARC as the terms between India and Pakistan deteriorates and recently, Maldives has extended its support to Pakistan to host the SAARC summit at the time when other SAARC nations couldn’t accept Pakistan’s safe haven for terrorism at any cost. S. Jaishankar, the Foreign Secretary of India retorted that SAARC is a ‘jammed vehicle’ as one country is not connected to others on the key issue of terrorism, which was a reference to Pakistan. Maldives supporting Pakistan to host the SAARC summit is an apathetic regard to the common concern of all the South Asian nations on the matter of terrorism and the safe haven that Pakistan ensures them.
Looking at the above facts and recent developments it seems very probable that the influence of SAARC has dwindled as India is not ready to further any talk and has shifted its attention to BIMSTEC and other sub-regional institutions. So is the scenario with Afghanistan-Maldives tie as it won’t be propitious now to rely much on SAARC but to engage bilaterally. Maldives being a nation which has narrow resources and is dependent to major extent on tourism for its survival, Afghanistan’s concern should rest on security issues which necessitate vigilance and watch over the growing radicalism in the country and the movement of radicals and extremists out of the atoll country. It can be achieved through conducting dialogues between the intellectuals of two nations, by holding conferences on the proper interpretation of religious literature. But one has to keep in mind that Maldives is attracting a significant flush of petrodollars from Saudi Arabia and has implemented major changes domestically so as to adopt Salafism in the land. In such a stringent and stoic situation, it would be a tough path for Afghanistan to initiate and build upon any such bilateral engagement with Maldives considering the overwhelming flush of Saudi Arabia’s funds to the country. Moreover, China’s influence in the country adds much pain to any serious deliberation on initiating talks with Maldives with the hope of reciprocity in regard to the intellectual exchanges on the moderate version of Islam or any other engagement of such nature because of Afghanistan’s leaning toward America and India.
CONGLOMERATION OF TROUBLES: AN IMPENDING CRISIS
The region has become a hot spot of the rivalry and power-flaunting between India-US and China. The situation of Maldives at present suggests that radicalism is mounting up gradually in its isolated islands which has become quite evident after Yameen’s government released the policy which included a provision requiring tourism companies to provide tourists with guidelines of how to behave in an Islamic country which seems like capitulating to the probability of foreigners being attacked on the Maldivian soil. Moreover, the recent activities targeting liberal journalists who raised their voice against radicalism have met with violent resistance and few of them even got killed. The press has been mowed down by the government after passing of the anti-defamation legislation which is another measure adopted by President Yameen’s government to use religion as a tool to remain in power by making a coalition with puritan Salafist parties. Maldives, as per the TSG Foreign Fighters report, supplies the world’s highest per capita number of foreign fighters to Middle-East for jihad fighting under ISIS and Al-Qaida’s Al Nusra Front.
Looking at the pattern of the way events are unfolding in Maldives it is easily discernible that this behaviour is very much similar to the pre-Red Mosque Siege behaviour which happened in Pakistan in the year 2007. Any significant shift of Maldives toward America-India alliance in the Indian Ocean region will backfire as the country has been radicalised to much extent and China-Pakistan alliance would not leave any opportunity to bring the shift of Maldives in their favour for their own geopolitical interests including Maritime Silk Route which becomes quite evident from China’s huge investment in the Maldives including the Malé-Hulhule Bridge and Malé International Airport, and the chances of such crisis is exacerbated by the reason that Wahhabi ideology has got entrenched in the society on many of the isolated atolls in Maldives. Due to shortage of good educational opportunities in Maldives, many parents send their children to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for theological studies in Madrassas which are unregulated; and thus they indoctrinate students with radical and extremist views. On 5th September 2014, a protest took place where placards being carried said ‘No democracy- We want just Islam’, ‘We want the laws of the Quran, not the green book (Constitution)’ etc. In this paper, many events and situations have been discussed which suggests that if this radicalism is not contained by strict measures in near future then it can lead to a fatal blow to the government which, right now, is using this radicalisation process as a tool to remain in power along with trampling on the human rights of its citizens. So it is an arduous job for Maldivian government to choose its side and they must do it carefully so as to not alienate the radical population or to go against their Wahhabi ideology.
NEED OF CAUTIOUS ASSESSEMENT FOR FUTURE ENGAGEMENT
While the politics in Maldives has remained stagnant and tumultuous domestically, Afghanistan must remain cautious in promoting people-to-people interaction as it may further lead to spread of the same ideology which has, till now, brought devastation to the country either through Pakistan or by some middle-eastern radicals since 90s. The violation of human rights of its citizens by Yameen’s government has gained worldwide attention and arbitrariness of judiciary and other organs and governmental machinery has been criticized by the United Nations as well. Afghanistan is about to play an active role as a member of Human Rights Council and it is an opportunity for the nation to win the confidence of international community which shall further consolidate its position in international politics and shall also lead as a groundwork for retaining support of many nations i.e. regional and global consensus for its domestic peace process. Adding another feather to its cap, Afghanistan has secured the green place in supporting freedom of expression in the UNESCO. This shows the unflinching effort of National Unity government to promote human rights unlike those nations who served as a member of Human Rights Council but were standing on the top of lists concerning human rights abuses like Maldives etc. Afghanistan needs to build upon this accomplishment and look forward to monitoring and promoting the same in the South Asian region and Maldives should also be on the watch list of the Afghan government and its delegation at UN Human Rights Council. Maldives has also earned the confidence of international community with regard to its advocacy for climate change and it’s strategically the most important issue for Maldives as its highest natural island is only 2.5 metres above the sea. Moreover, as the significance of SAARC in the region has fettered to some extent recently, Afghanistan, although a landlocked country, should make an endeavour to become a member of Indian-Ocean Rim Association (IORA) as it includes those countries who have the common interests and one of its priorities is to focus on the protection against traditional and non-traditional maritime security challenges including piracy, terrorism, drug trafficking etc. All these concerns are mutually shared by all the nations and so Afghanistan should make an endeavour to become a member of this organisation and it has become a matter of primary concern after its hammering out of trilateral cooperation agreement for using Chabahar port as a transport and transit corridor with India and Iran. Afghanistan’s access to the port has provided it with a leverage over its earlier dependency on Pakistan and a major stake in the Indian Ocean region and it would be justified on its part to become a member of the IORA. On 25th May this year, Maldives had decided to participate in the IORA but the membership has not been confirmed yet. This organization can act as a platform for dialogues and cooperation between Maldives and Afghanistan, and with Indonesia and India’s support the organisation seems propitious for engagement between the two nations bilaterally.
Strategically, Afghanistan-Maldives engagement should be focused on the Regional diplomacy with a tinge of Track II promoting Islamic literature and its moderate interpretation by engaging intellectuals and other non-state actors. But again, instead of engaging bilaterally Afghanistan should prefer engaging multilaterally involving other Islamic countries in the region like Indonesia etc. too. Maldives and the ‘Indo-Pacific Region’ has become the hot spot of Indo-China rivalry and China’s growing military presence has endangered the status quo in the region. So Afghanistan should take extreme care to maintain neutrality with regard to its relations with Maldives as tilting toward either side can have a negative effect on its domestic peace process. The menace of radicalism and extremism is hovering over Maldives and the treacherous nature of Maldivian government at present negates any serious intelligence sharing on their part so consequently Afghanistan, with the help of maritime powers like India and US, should monitor the movement in the Indian ocean region bordering Iran and Pakistan because the inactive terrorist cells in the country may be mobilised at the order from headquarters in Afghanistan, Pakistan or India. People-to-people interaction should be scrutinized so as to curb the exchange of radical ideologies among the people of two nations as it can give a fillip to Taliban and ISIS hold over the country and may imperil the stability of the country in particular and the region, in general. Daesh presence in Afghanistan shall attract the Maldivians with extremist and Wahhabi ideology and so, the security concern should guide the determination of the extent of the relationship between Afghanistan and the Maldives. Moreover, Afghanistan should make genuine endeavours to become a member of IORA as now, it has a major stake in the Chabahar port and consequently in the Indian Ocean region. This platform can also play a significant role in dealing with maritime terrorism, drug-trafficking and other traditional and non-traditional concerns in the region. It is important to reiterate that Afghanistan should adopt the regional diplomacy instead of directly engaging with the Maldivian government as the political situation in Maldives is tumultuous and even treacherous. Nevertheless, Maldives had enacted two acts in 2015 as a measure to curb terrorism which is plausible. They are ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ and ‘Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act’. But it still remains to be seen whether these enactments can seriously contain the process of radicalisation and impending threats to the land or not. Maldivian politics has hit the rock bottom and gradual radicalisation of people in the country is nothing else but Frankenstein’s monster. The contrast between the governments of both the respective countries is extremely vivid. On one hand, Afghanistan’s attitude toward protecting human rights and attempt to include into government adversaries like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar etc. through peaceful talks is highly commendable and a step forward to enhance democratic values but, on the other hand, the Maldivian government has made coalition with radical parties from time to time to remain in power and usurped them later when the government’s whimsical interests were at stake. The attitude of the two governments illuminates a sharp dichotomy but it is in the best of both’s interest to engage bilaterally and multilaterally while keeping in mind the perils it possesses.
The latest Israeli strikes come a day after Syrian government pulled out of UN-led talks in Geneva to end the civil war
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet takes off during an exercise dubbed ” Juniper Falcon”at Ovda Military Airbase in southern Israel on 16 May 2017 (Reuters)
Syrian air defences intercepted at least two Israeli missiles which targeted government positions near Damascus early Saturday morning, state media reported.
“At half past midnight (2230 GMT Friday), the Israeli enemy fired several surface-to-surface missiles at a military position in Damascus province,” the state SANA news agency reported.
“The air defences of the Syrian army were able to deal with the attack … destroying two of the missiles,” it said, adding that the attack nonetheless caused “material damage”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a Britain-based group that monitors the war through a network of contacts in Syria, said the missiles, presumably Israeli, targeted “positions of the Syrian regime and its allies” southwest of Damascus near the town of al-Kiswa.
“An arms depot was destroyed,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that it was not immediately clear whether the warehouse was operated by the Syrian army, or its allies Iran or Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.
Hezbollah fighters put Lebanese and Hezbollah flags at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border, July 25, 2017 (Reuters)
The Israeli air force has previously acknowledged carrying out repeated air and missile strikes within Syria since the outbreak of the bloody civil war to stop arms deliveries to Hezbollah, with which it fought a war in 2006.
The militia has played a key role in supporting the Syrian regime forces of President Bashar al-Assad in recapturing territory from Syrian rebels and Islamic State militants.
Israel has also grown deeply alarmed at the increasingly prominent role regional rival Iran has played in the neighbouring conflict. Iran has provided critical support to the Syrian military and Hezbollah.
On a visit to Damascus in October, Iran’s military chief warned Israel against breaching Syrian airspace or territory.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
The two countries remain technically at war.
Latest peace talks stall over Assad’s future role
The latest incident came after Syrian government representatives quit UN-led peace talks in Geneva to end the civil war on Friday, saying it would not return until the Syrian opposition withdraw a statement demanding that President Assad play no-role in an interim post-war government.
The civil war which begain in 2011 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes.
So far all previous rounds of negotiations have failed to make progress, faltering over the future role of President Assad.
Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations and head of the government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari (C) arrives prior to a round of negotiations during the UN-led Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on November 30, 2017 (AFP)
After a morning of talks, Syria government chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari said: “For us [this] round is over, as a government delegation. He as mediator can announce his own opinion,” referring to UN mediator Staffan de Mistura.
“As long as the other side sticks to the language of Riyadh 2 … there will be no progress,” Ja‘afari said, referring to a position adopted in Riyadh last week in which the opposition stuck to a demand to exclude Assad from a transitional deal.
Riyadh 2 was a “mine” on the road to Geneva, he added and accused the opposition of imposing preconditions on the talks and purposefully undermining them.
The opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi rejected the claims saying his side sought a “political solution” to the war.
“We have come to this round with no preconditions,” he told reporters.
“Now, not coming back is a precondition in itself. It’s an expression or a reflection of a responsibility toward people who have been suffering for seven years now,” Aridi said.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Dec. 1 issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, the former vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the CIA, over his alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt.
The arrest warrant alleges that Fuller was in Turkey during the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and left the country after the failure of the attempted military takeover.
The warrant accuses Fuller of “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and obstructing the duties of the Republic of Turkey,” ”obtaining state information that must be kept secret for political and military espionage purposes,” and “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
It also states that Fuller was in contact with American academic Henri Barkey, who was also previously subject of an arrest warrant in Turkey, as well as other figures who played a role in the coup attempt.
Barkey is accused by prosecutors of organizing and coordinating the coup attempt in a meeting on Istanbul’s Büyükada island between July 15 and July 16, 2016.
Prosecutors claim that Fuller also participated in this meeting.
The arrest warrant comes after notorious Russian strategist Alexander Dugin had claimed during a recent TV broadcast in Turkey that both Barkey and Fuller attended the meeting on Büyükada. Dugin also stated that Russian intelligence agencies had “concrete evidence that CIA agents commanded the failed coup attempt.”
In 2006 Fuller wrote a letter supporting the U.S. green card application of Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey considers the coup’s mastermind.
“It is a grouping to safeguard Saudi interests. People in Yemen are being massacred by Saudi Arabia itself.”
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s closeness to Saudi Arabia and former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s formal appointment as the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition commander has left Iran fuming as Tehran asked Islamabad not to support a “sectarian” alliance, The Nation has learnt.
Senior officials at the foreign ministry said Iran had contacted Pakistan to reconsider its decision of spearheading the Saudi-led military alliance.
“They insist it is a Sunni alliance against the Shias. We are struggling to convince them [Iran] that this is an anti-terrorism alliance. They [Iran] are drifting away as we get closer to Saudi Arabia,” one official told The Nation.
He said the diplomatic contacts between Pakistan and Iran were ongoing on the issue and Pakistan hoped to placate Iran in the coming days. “We have assured them that we will quit the alliance if it proves to be sectarian. So far we are planning to eliminate terrorism not any Muslim sect,” the official added.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa were in Saudi Arabia this week for talks with the top Saudi leaders on expanding the bilateral relationship.
General Bajwa had earlier visited Iran and held talks with President Hassan Rouhani. The meeting was termed “positive” by the officials on both sides.
Pakistan had allowed Raheel Sharif to command the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance of several Muslim states after a request from Riyadh. The alliance was formed by Saudi Arabia in December 2015 with its headquarters in Riyadh.
Iran had objected to the formation of the alliance fearing it was a Sunni-alliance rather than a Muslim alliance.
Pakistan had also delayed approval-to Raheel Sharif – considering Iran ‘s objections – for several months before finally giving a nod to the former army chief.
This month, Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost had said the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance did not have the necessary ingredients of an alliance.
“From the very beginning of its inception there have been a number of ambiguities about they have persisted so far. Saudi authorities have announced that objective of that alliance been fight against terrorism. While Iran , Iraq and Syria the main victims of terrorism are not part of that alliance,” he had told The Nation.
Honardoost said Iran on the basis of non-inference in the internal affairs of other countries, considered presence or non-presence of Pakistan in this alliance as the discretion of Pakistan .
“Joining or quitting the Saudi[-led] alliance depends on Pakistan . But the alliance is contrary to its motto of fighting terrorism,” he maintained.
Another official at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan had defended the Saudi-alliance in talks with Iran .
“There are misunderstandings but we believe Iran will understand that this alliance is not against them. We have assurances from Saudi Arabia in this regard,” he said. Press attaché at the Iranian Embassy, Abbas Badrifar, said the alliance included only the Sunni-majority states, which damaged its image.
“Pakistan is a sovereign country and can join or quit any alliance but we feel the Saudi coalition is only designed against Shias. It is not an alliance but a Sunni grouping,” he told The Nation.
Badrifar said the victims of terrorism were not members of the coalition and had not even been invited to join the alliance.
“It is a grouping to safeguard Saudi interests. People in Yemen are being massacred by Saudi Arabia itself,” he added.
Defence analyst and former major general Farooq Malik said Pakistan could not support any anti-Iran block as it had friendly relations with the Muslim-majority country.
“Pakistan allowed Raheel Sharif’s services to Saudi Arabia for the anti-terrorism alliance. This is not against Iran ,” he said.
Dr Shaheen Akhtar from the National Defence University said Iran was as important to Pakistan as Saudi Arabia so Islamabad should not lose Tehran at any cost.
“Iran does have reservations against the alliance but Pakistan should try to placate them and improve ties with the important neighbour. We cannot have ties with one ally and annoy another friend,” she said.