Posts Tagged ‘ISIL’

‘Channel of ISIS and Al-Qaeda’: Top UAE security official calls for Al Jazeera to be bombed

November 26, 2017

RT — Russia Today

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Dubai’s security chief Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan, known for his controversial social media posts, has called for Al Jazeera to be obliterated. The General accuses the Qatar channel of siding with the perpetrators of this week’s deadly Sinai attack.

“The alliance must bomb the machine of terrorism… the channel of ISIL, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra front, Al Jazeera the terrorists,” Khalfan wrote on Twitter to his 2.4 million followers, using an older name for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS)

“For how long will they continue to tamper with the security of Egypt and the Arab world?”

Khalfan, who has been a key agitator in the ongoing standoff between Qatar and other Gulf States, underlined his point by putting out a composite picture that placed the channel’s logo next to images of ISIS leader Bakr al-Baghdadi, Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has his own show on the channel.

The Doha-based Al Jazeera has replied by saying that it is Khalfan who is inciting terrorism, and said that he would bear responsibility for any attacks against its journalists.

“The UAE needs to respond. Khalfan is not just an Emirati citizen but an official in the UAE government. He is using a moment of anger and grief over the terrible attack in Sinai to fuel his hatred against Al Jazeera.” Yaser Abuhilalah, managing director of Al Jazeera Arabic, told al-Quds al-Arabi.

“What Dhahi Khalfan is doing is incitement to terrorism. Terrorism is not just limited to committing a crime, but any act or statement that paves the way for a terrorist act or incites it, and incitement to terrorism is terrorism itself.”

On Friday, militants operating under the Islamic State banner carried out a shooting and bombing of a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai, killing over 300 people, including more than 120 children.

While Al Jazeera did not endorse this or previous terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam, it has been accused of terrorism links ever since it became the station to broadcast bin Laden’s messages to the world, which were handed over to its journalists by Al-Qaeda representatives.

Critics have also said that it serves as the propaganda arm of the Qatari state and particularly its security services, promoting their agenda in supporting various movements in the volatile region. Multiple Al Jazeera journalists were arrested in Egypt, where its offices were forced to close in 2013, at the behest of the current regime, over their on-air support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The channel, which began broadcasting in Arabic in 1996, says that it merely operates outside the national restrictions that hobble other regional broadcasters, insists that it is providing independent journalism, and cites its high ratings in multiple countries as evidence that its editorial lines find resonance with viewers.


Saudi Arabia Is Increasingly Friendly With Israel — Will This Counter The Goals Of Iran and The Palestinians?

November 26, 2017

Al Jazeera

President Donald Trump shakes hands with then Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting on May 20, 2017 in Riyadh [AP/Evan Vucci]
President Donald Trump shakes hands with then Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting on May 20, 2017 in Riyadh [AP/Evan Vucci]

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been the hot subject of speculation and gossip in recent weeks. Not a day goes by without us hearing about their latest rendezvous, their winks and whims, their flirtations and fantasies.

I’m not sure Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did indeed make a secret trip to Tel Aviv, but I did see former Saudi and Israeli intelligence chiefs share a stage at a New York synagogue last month.

The hilarity – or rather, the calamity – of the scene transcended the attempt at normality from former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki Al Faisal, with his English gentleman’s red socks, as he disagreed on stage with former Mossad director Efraim Halevy, as the latter argued in favour of maintaining the Iran nuclear deal. When an Israeli spymaster sounds like a moderate in comparison to his Saudi counterpart regarding a “fellow Muslim nation”, it’s time to be alarmed.

At any rate, since Prince Turki’s “flirtation” with another former Israeli spy and ex-foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, in Davos in January, informal meetings and overtures between the Israelis and the Saudis seem to have multiplied. Bahrain and the UAE have also joined in. Their objective is to prepare the public for the shock of normalisation, to normalise the idea of future normalisation with Israel.

Prince Turki Al Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, with Efraim Halevy, a former Israeli Mossad director with others at the Temple Emanu-El Strieicker Center in New York City on October 22, 2017 [James Reinl/Al Jazeera]

Love and hate

The attraction between the Wahabi and Zionist leaders may be neither halal nor kosher, but it’s nonetheless strong and getting stronger. And it’s nothing new.

Their rapprochement is born out of necessity and driven, primarily, by mutual aversion rather than mutual attraction: aversion to the Iranian regime and fear of its expanding influence in the region. As those feelings grow, so does their relationship, in accordance with the realist proverb: my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump noticed with great satisfaction the “really good feeling towards Israel” in Saudi Arabia after his May visit to both countries. Since then he’s been godfathering a trilateral arrangement with Israel and Saudi Arabia to confront Iran’s “fanatical regimeand its regional aggression.

The Trump administration will fail to produce a credible and comprehensive peace strategy.

In an interview with the Saudi publication Elaph earlier this month – yet another sign of normalisation – Israel’s military chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, explained how Iran threatens both Saudi Arabia and Israel through not one but two parallel (Shia) crescents of influence that cross the region. To the north, one goes through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea; and to the south, a second goes through the Gulf region, Yemen and to the banks of the Red Sea.

Marriages of convenience have been built on much less.

Gains and losses

Judging from their public declarations, Israelis are terribly impatient. They want to take the Saudi relationship to a whole new level; they want to “go steady” and they want to come out. And they want it yesterday. Their generation-old (wet) dream of public strategic engagement with moderate Sunni Arab regimes is finally coming true.

Israel has everything to gain and, if it can help it, nothing to lose, from the normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. It could see its relations improve dramatically with many of the other 55 Muslim-majority countries, just as it saw a huge spike in its diplomatic and economic relations around the world after the 1993 Oslo Accords, including with the likes of Jordan and Qatar. Doha shut down Israel’s trade office in the Gulf country in 2009 after the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

An Israeli activist holds a placard reading, “Don’t refuse peace”, during a rally by the Peace Now group, in support of the Saudi Peace Initiative in Jerusalem on March 28, 2007.[Kevin Frayer/AP]

For Israel, shared strategic interests and shared goals with Saudi Arabia should suffice to normalise their relations and strengthen their union. But as Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s latest revelations about Israel’s long “sharing of intelligence” have shown, it’s Riyadh, not Tel Aviv, that insists on secrecy out of a sense of shame.

When Saudi Arabia committed to a peace initiative that became an Arab League initiative in 2002, it expressed willingness to normalise relations with Israel but only after Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian and Arab territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

For Riyadh, quick and unconditional normalisation with its historical nemesis has long been a risky proposition for the kingdom and its regional standing. Even its more enthusiastic neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, has been, in the words of one Israeli expert, a silent partner.

Not any more.

New leadership, new policy

It was quite shocking to see the above-mentioned Saudi interview with Israeli chief of staff totally and utterly ignore the Palestinian issue. That’s clearly no mistake or lapse of journalistic judgment – it’s intentional. And it’s politically motivated.

Has the Saudi (and UAE) leadership accepted Israel’s generous offer on Iran in return for ignoring the plight of Palestine? Or does Riyadh still insist on Israel accepting the Arab initiative before formal normalisation begins?

It seems the Saudis and Israelis are waiting for clarifications and answers from President Trump’s proposal – what he promises will be the “ultimate deal” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For example, will the US ask Israel to withdraw from East Jerusalem or will it pressure the Saudis to pressure the Palestinians to give up their right to a state and a capital? Or, perhaps, leave it in limbo?

Spare yourselves the suspense. The “ultimate deal” is the ultimate BS.

Why? Well, because the boy-wonder that Trump appointed as the best man for the job of resolving the century-old conflict is none other than his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – a lousy businessman and a religious Zionist, whose claim to fame is marrying the right girl at the right time. It’s not even clear whether Kushner’s White House career will survive the Russia investigation, since Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly after him for his role in the dismissal of FBI chief James Comey. Mueller is also looking into Kushner’s secret policy coordination with Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu to undermine the Obama administration during a UN vote on Israeli illegal settlements in Palestine.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner walks with Ivanka Trump at the Royal Court Palace in Riyadh on May 20, 2017 [Evan Vucci/AP]

In my estimation, the Trump administration will fail to produce a credible and comprehensive peace strategy, and, like its predecessors, it will fail to resolve the “Israel problem” or stop the colonisation of Palestine. Likewise, the administration has no real actionable Iran strategy, and lacks the will and the intention to confront Iran in various hotspots of the greater Middle East.

Tweeting Iran into submission doesn’t require Israeli or Saudi participation. Trump is more than capable.

Consequently, if the Saudi royals normalise with the “Zionist usurpers” of Jerusalem, they’ll find out that they’ve been exposed on all fronts. They’ll learn that Israel won’t fight their battles for them. And they will also discover, rather late, that instead of putting Iran in a corner, normalisation with Israel in the absence of peace will empower and propagate Iran’s role in the region.

And there’s more.

Before the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques surrenders al-Aqsa to the “Zionists” or before the Salmans raise Israeli flags in Riyadh, it’s worthwhile to consider the consequences of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s normalisation with Israel. Bear in mind that Saudi Arabia, unlike Egypt, does not seek to liberate territories from Israeli occupation and desires no aid from the United States.

Four decades later…

Forty years ago this week, then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a diplomatic splash when he visited Israel and spoke to the Knesset. It broke a psychological barrier in the Arab world, marked a turning point in the conflict with Israel, and saw the beginning of Egypt’s official normalisation of relations with Israel.

Sadat cemented that process into a cold peace the following year, signing the Camp David accords, which guaranteed the return of occupied Sinai and billions of dollars in aid from the US, but neglected the occupied territories of the rest of the Arabs, including the Palestinians.

A militant Egyptian group assassinated Sadat during a military parade three years later, but his successor Hosni Mubarak continued to honour the agreement. Sinai was returned and the aid came through, but the bigger promise of modernisation, openness and peace dividend never really materialised, certainly not for ordinary Egyptians.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the Knesset on November 20, 1977 [Shmuel Rachmani/AP]

For the people of Egypt, normalisation with Israel never became normal. The Egyptian people remained mostly hostile or indifferent towards their neighbour to the north. And Palestine continued to be a rallying cause for Egyptian civil society, in their pursuit of justice and freedom from repression.

But for Israel, normalisation was a bounty. With its southern flanks secured, it began a large campaign of repression against Palestinians and escalation of its illegal settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel annexed the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 1981. And in 1982, it invaded Lebanon to crush the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Lebanese National Movement, which led to tens of thousands of casualties. It maintained its occupation of southern Lebanon for the next 18 years. Israel’s status was elevated soon after from US regional ally to global “strategic asset”.

Forty years ago, there was no Palestinian Hamas and no Lebanese Hezbollah, no al-Qaeda and ISIL, and no Islamic Republic of Iran. But soon after the Camp David accords, Israeli aggression paved the way for the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah, just as Soviet and US aggression – coupled with Arab discord – plunged the region into chaos and paved the way for the rise of militant Islamists.

Betraying Palestine

The lessons couldn’t be clearer. Arab autocrats, who fail in governance and in war, also fail in peace and normalisation.

Normalisation through weakness is the exact opposite of peace through strength, and therefore, is destined to fail. It is an idea that is tinged with betrayal: betrayal of common Arab interests, as well as the betrayal of Palestine.

For the people of the Arab world, Palestine has long been a rallying cause because it’s about more than geography or a homeland for the Palestinian people. Palestine is the test of Arab conscience, the symbol of the struggle for freedom, not only from military occupation, but also from political repression at home.

Those who shed tears over Arab unity and national security in Cairo this week are the very regimes cooperating with Israel in secret. Their incompetence has paved the way for Israel, Iran and the US to run amok in the region.

When the regional hysteria finally ceases, when the hallucination subsides, history will cast a harsh judgment on the cynics who normalise with Israel at the expense of Palestine.


US drone strike kills leader of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants

October 19, 2017

In this screen grab taken from a video recording, Omar Khalid Khorasani, center, a top Pakistan Taliban commander, gives an interview in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. (File photo: Handout via Reuters)
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: The leader of Pakistani militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who planned some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Pakistan in the last year, died on Thursday after being wounded in a US drone strike in Afghanistan, a spokesman said.
“Our leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani, was wounded in one of the recent drone strikes in Afghanistan. He was wounded badly, and today he was martyred,” Asad Mansoor, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban and has in the past also supported Middle East-based Daesh.

ISIS fanatics ‘plotting new 9/11’: Homeland Security chief says jihadists are working on a ‘big explosion’

October 19, 2017

Related image

  • Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a warning
  • She said recent attacks are keeping jihadis engaged ahead of ‘big explosion’
  • Terrorists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties, she says
  • Yesterday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned UK was facing biggest terror threat

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned today.

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities.

Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties.

Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame.

The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft, the intelligence is clear on that.

‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned

She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide.

She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world.

She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving.

‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high.

‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’

Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes.

‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’

They want to take down aircraft
Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists.

‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added.

A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit.

Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change.

Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks.

The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection.

It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.

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Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of promoting ‘regime change’

October 18, 2017

Al Jazeera

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations' plan is to 'disrespect and bully' [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations’ plan is to ‘disrespect and bully’ [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of trying to engineer “regime change” during its four-month blockade of its Gulf neighbour.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNBC on Tuesday that Riyadh is attempting to destabilise Qatar’s leadership.

“We see [Saudi] government officials talking about regime change… We see a country that is bringing back the dark ages of tribes and putting them together in order to create a pressure on connected tribes in Qatar,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, accusing Doha of supporting “extremism and terrorism” and cozying up to Iran – a regional nemesis.

Qatar has vehemently denied all allegations.

Sheikh Mohammed said the plan of the blockading countries was not to thwart terrorism but to “disrespect and bully”.

“It is nothing to do with stopping financing terrorism or hate speech while they are doing the same by promoting incitement against my country, promoting a regime change in my country,” he told the US broadcaster.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and also houses the region’s biggest US military base with more than 11,000 American troops.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Sheikh Mohammed said the blockade has impeded the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region.

The airspace blockade meant that Qatari aircraft providing logistical support for the American military base have been diverted, and Qatari officers participating in operations against ISIL were expelled from the Bahrain-based US military headquarters.

“So there are a lot of things which undermine … the global efforts in countering … Daesh,” Sheikh Mohammed said, referring to ISIL by an Arabic acronym.

Inside Isil’s forgotten outpost in the Philippines

October 10, 2017

A soldier stands guard in Marawi

For years it has been Islamic State’s forgotten outpost, but the perils of ignoring Isil’s growing influence in the Philippines came to the fore this weekend when a Filipino doctor was charged with plotting terrorist attacks in New York.

Russell Salic, 37, an orthopaedic surgeon from the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao, home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency and extremist Isil-linked groups, has been accused by the US of attempting in 2016 to fund bombings in Times Square and the New York metro.

The Philippine Justice Secretary confirmed on Sunday that he would be extradited. He faces a life sentence after an FBI sting revealed he tried to transfer funds to two accomplices in American who wanted to create “the next 9/11.”

Counter-terrorism analysts have frequently warned that a prolonged humanitarian crisis in Mindanao – a province afflicted by clan warfare, Islamic…

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U.S. Commander: Final Assault on Islamic State Stronghold at Raqqa To Begin Sunday

October 8, 2017

The Jerusalem Post

By Reuters

OCTOBER 8, 2017 15:56


The Islamic State has been pushed out of Mosul and other major cities in the last several months, and Raqqa remains its last real stronghold.

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A final assault on Islamic State’s last line of defense in its former Syrian capital Raqqa should begin on Sunday night, a field commander for the US-backed forces operating there said.

The loss of Islamic State’s remaining streets and buildings in Raqqa following its defeat in Iraq’s Mosul this year and its retreat from swathes of territory in both countries, would mark a major milestone in the battle to destroy the jihadist group.

The assault on militants in the center of the northern city will focus on surrounding the sports stadium there, said a field commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa, who gave his name as Ardal Raqqa.

“Daesh is massing there because this is the last stage. They will resist, or they will surrender or die,” he said. “This their last stand to the death.”

Islamic State declared a caliphate in 2014 and at the height of its power ruled over millions of people, from northern Syria to the outskirts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, but it has since endured a series of losses under attack from many sides.

Raqqa was the group’s de facto Syrian capital, a center of operations where it oversaw the management of much of eastern, central and northern Syria and planned attacks abroad.

Now it is hemmed into a small area in the city center that includes the stadium, the National Hospital and a roundabout where Islamic State once displayed the heads of its enemies.

In the hours before the expected launch of the final assault, which the commander said could take up to a week, the sound of gunfire sporadically rattled around the area near the hospital.

The district had been flattened, with buildings completely gone. Coalition jets soared overhead and air strikes pounded at a higher rate than in recent days.

Islamic State has lost most of its territory to the SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, and to a rival offensive by Syria’s army and allied forces this year, and has fallen back on the fertile Euphrates valley area downstream of Raqqa.

The army and its allies reached the city of Deir al-Zor in September after a months-long offensive across the Syrian desert, and have since then pushed down the Euphrates towards the border with Iraq.

On Sunday a Syrian military source said they had encircled Islamic State fighters in the city of al-Mayadin, one of the jihadists’ last strongholds in the area.

“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir al-Zor and its countryside… and encircle Daesh terrorists in the city of al-Mayadin,” the military source said.

However, the group has still been able to launch a series of effective counter attacks against the Syrian army in the central desert region over the past week, putting pressure on the main supply road to Deir al-Zor from the west.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is backed in the war by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and its campaign against Islamic State has mostly been on the west bank of the river.

The US-backed SDF campaign has mostly been on the east bank, where Raqqa is located, and has also advanced downstream to hold areas opposite Deir al-Zor. The United States and Russia have put in place channels to lessen the risk of fighting between the rival offensives they back.

US officials have previously said that Islamic State had relocated some of its diminished command and propaganda structures to al-Mayadin as it was forced from territory elsewhere.

The spokeswoman for the SDF campaign in Raqqa, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, said in a statement on a website for the campaign that it would announce the liberation of Raqqa “in the coming few days” after having captured 85 percent of the city.

Commanders directing the battle in Raqqa have said that Islamic State fighters have taken civilian hostages and are using sniper fire, booby traps and tunnels to slow the SDF advance.

The SDF began its campaign to isolate Raqqa early this year, pushing along several fronts to enclose the city against the Euphrates backed by coalition air strikes and special forces.Its attack on the city itself started in June and the fighting left much of Raqqa in ruins, as intense air strikes and street-to-street battles devastated buildings.

Erdogan: Turkey backing FSA rebels in new Idlib push

October 8, 2017

Turkey’s President Erdogan says operation in province largely controlled Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham is led by the Free Syrian Army.

 Turkish tanks seen at Iskendurun district in Hatay [Stringer/AFP/Getty Images]
Turkish tanks seen at Iskendurun district in Hatay [Stringer/AFP/Getty Images]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara-backed Free Syria Army rebels have launched a major operation in northwestern Syria against former al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

The push on Saturday comes as Turkey along with Russia and Iran prepare to set up a so-called “de-escalation” zone in Idlib province, in line with deals in talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.

Idlib is largely held by the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which was not part of the talks and has rejected the implementation of a de-escalation zone.

READ MORE: Syria’s civil war explained from the beginning

Erdogan said the operation, which has seen Turkish troops heading towards the border but not yet crossing it, was being conducted in coordination with Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Today, there’s a serious operation in Idlib and it will continue,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

”We have opened up a space in our region with operation Euphrates Shield and now we are making efforts to take a step forward by maintaining security in Idlib,” he added.

Erdogan said many Syrians had fled to Idlib from neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting last year, and Turkey was not going to let them down.

“We can’t tell them, ‘Whatever happens, happens. You can either die or survive.’ We have to extend a hand to our brothers. Now, this step has been taken, and it is under way.”

‘Not a picnic’

Idlib is mainly controlled by HTS, an alliance led by al-Qaeda‘s former Syria affiliate, which ejected more moderate rebels in recent months

HTS is not party to a deal brokered in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran for the safe zone in the province, one of four such “de-escalation” zones across Syria.

Removing HTS forces from the area will be needed to allow the arrival of Iranian, Russian and Turkish forces to implement a de-escalation zone.

In a statement posted on social media, the group accused the Turkey-backed factions of working with Russia and described them as traitors – but did not mention Turkey.

HTS said Idlib would “not be a picnic” for them and added “the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce”.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep near the Turkey-Syria border, said the operation was “definitely a significant move by the [Turkish] army” but more details were needed.

“We have to wait and see what the military planners of Russia, Iran and Turkey come up with, particularly when it comes to maintaining troops on the ground,” he said.

Ahelbarra said the big question is what will be the reaction of HTS, which has thousands of fighters entrenched in different areas of the province.

“If they decide to put up resistance against this whole military operation I think in the coming days we are likely to see some of the most intensive fighting ever in Syria.”

Commando units

Erdogan told reporters the operation was led by FSA rebels and that the Turkish army was “not yet” operating inside Syria.

State-run Anadolu news agency said there was a major build-up of fully-equipped commando units and military vehicles around the town of Reyhanli bordering Idlib close to the Cilvegozu border crossing.

The Hurriyet daily said ultimately Turkey would ensure security in Idlib city and Russia in the surrounding area.

Appearing to confirm this, Erdogan said: “Idlib is a region where we will provide protection in the inside and Russia on the outside.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitor said Turkish army cranes had begun removing sections of the security wall Turkey has built on the border in preparation for an incursion. It said the operation was yet to formally begin.

Turkey earlier this year wrapped up its months-long Euphrates Shield operation in Aleppo province that involved both the Turkish army and Syrian rebels.

Asked whether the Idlib operation would be similar to Euphrates Shield, Erdogan replied: “When you enter the boxing ring you don’t count your punches.”

A rebel commander participating in the operation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, that “all the rebel groups” who took part in Euphrates Shield are participating in the latest operation.

“The fighters number in the thousands and there are Turkish soldiers participating,” he added, without giving further details. “The goal of the operation is to liberate Idlib fully from Tahrir al-Sham.”

Coordination with Russia

The move comes a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Erdogan in Ankara, with both sides agreeing to push for the Idlib de-escalation zone.

After those talks, Putin declared the right conditions now existed to end the over six-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2011.

The Russian defence ministry said Saturday some 120 ISIL fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian air raids in Syria over the past 24 hours.SOHR in the last week has repeatedly accused Syria and Russia of carrying out deadly air raids in Idlib province with heavy civilian losses.

Despite being on opposite sides of the conflict, Russia and Turkey have been working together intensely since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian warplane over Syria.

Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow’s military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad’s removal.

Commenting on the coordination with Russia, Erdogan said: “Relations with the regime is something looked after by Russia, and we have taken measures in other areas.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Middle East Turkey Syria’s Civil War Turkey-Syria border


Troops killed in ambush on joint Niger-US patrol

October 5, 2017

Al Jazeera

Five Nigerien and three US special forces killed in attack on joint patrol in southwest Niger, officials say.


Five Nigerien and three US special forces were killed and others wounded in an ambush on a joint patrol in southwest Niger.

The attack, which occurred on Wednesday night, marks the first US combat casualties in Niger, where Washington provides training and security assistance in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel region.

“We can confirm reports that a joint US and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger,” a spokesperson of the US Africa Command told Radio France International (RFI) by telephone.

According to RFI, the ambush took place after fighters from Mali attacked the village of Tongo Tongo in Tillaberi. A counter-operation was launched, but the US and Niger soldiers fell into a trap, according to the radio report.

Namatta Abubacar, an official for the region of Tillaberi, told Niger TV that five Nigerian soldiers were among the dead.

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No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the area is largely controlled by fighters, including members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

African security forces backed by Western troops have been stepping up efforts to counter the armed groups, which are part of a growing regional rebellion in the Sahel region.

Presidents of the Sahel countries, including Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, are working on final modalities to set up a G5 Sahel force to help fight the numerous groups that are active in the region.

In mid-September, the government of President Mahamadou Issoufou extended Niger’s state of emergency in force since March due to a threat coming from Mali.

Analysts said the deadly incident will not change Washington’s involvement in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel.

“For several years the US has been expanding its footprint in that area. They are there to train the indigenous forces and not to carryout raids. And I don’t see that changing because of this incident,” Martin Reardon, a former FBI officer and senior vice president of Soufan group – a security intelligence organisation – told Al Jazeera.

“This ambush will not have blowback in the Congress. Politically this incident will not become a hot potato in Washington or Niger,” Reardon said.

In mid-June, Niger mounted a new military operation in the Tillaberi region to take on the armed groups.

The United Nations later warned that the conflict in Mali was spilling over to Burkina Faso and Niger, after a significant surge of attacks in border areas.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies


Erdogan visits Iran as ties warm amid shared fears

October 4, 2017


© Iranian Presidency/AFP / by Marc Jourdier | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) welcomes Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran on October 4, 2017 in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours which both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence

TEHRAN (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran on Wednesday in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours who support rival camps in Syria but both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence.

The two governments fear the secession of Iraq’s Kurds would stoke separatist sentiment among their own large Kurdish minorities and are eager to work together with the federal government in Baghdad to block it.

Erdogan is due to meet both his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state.

He was preceded in Tehran by Turkish armed forces chief of staff General Hulusi Akar, who arrived on Sunday.

Both countries have held military manoeuvres close to their borders with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in recent days to ratchet up the pressure on Kurdish leaders.

Those exercises have also involved forces of the federal government in Baghdad, which has demanded the annulment of the September 25 vote, which returned a 92.7 percent majority for independence.

“Cooperation between Iran, Turkey and Iraq can create stability and security in the region and block moves for secession,” Iranian Defence Minister General Amir Hatami said as he held talks with Akar on Tuesday.

Baghdad imposed a ban on all international flights to Kurdish airports on Friday prompting an exodus of foreigners.

Iran has ordered a halt to all trade in fuel products with Iraqi Kurdistan and has said it will allow Iraqi federal forces to deploy at its border crossings with the region.

Turkey has threatened to close its land border and halt the export of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, an economic lifeline.

Erdogan vowed on Saturday that Iraqi Kurdistan “will pay a price” for the “unacceptable” referendum.

Since 1984, Turkey has battled rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has rear bases in northern Iraq and which initially sought to create a breakaway state.

Two Kurdish rebel groups are active in Iran — the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).

– Pragmatism –

Iran and Turkey have been rivals for centuries but have recently sought to forge a pragmatic relationship, with the Islamic Republic strongly supporting Erdogan after last year’s failed coup.

The two governments have taken opposing sides in the six-year civil war in Syria but relations have thawed this year with them both joining Russia as co-sponsors of peace talks which began in Kazakstan in January.

Those talks have led to the setting up of three safe zones and plans for a fourth, with Iran and Russia keeping the government and its allies on board and Turkey doing the same with the rebels.

Iran and Turkey also both share sympathy with Qatar in a diplomatic crisis that erupted between the Gulf emirate and its neighbours in June.

Qatar, a longtime Turkish ally, hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on Tuesday as the crisis pushes it closer to Tehran.

“We are on an upward and positive path in bilateral relations and regional cooperation between Iran and Turkey,” which is dictated by “reality”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi told the ILNA news agency.

Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper said Erdogan’s visit was an “opportunity to establish the basis for a new regional order and new alliances.”

The two sides are also expected to discuss new economic projects in a bid to meet their goal of boosting bilateral trade to $30 billion in 2018 from $10 billion last year.

The atmosphere for the talks is a far cry from Erdogan’s last visit to Tehran in January 2015 when a speech he gave just days before sparked demands from some Iranian lawmakers for it to be cancelled.

The Turkish leader had accused Iran of seeking to “dominate the region” and demanded that it withdraw its troops from Iraq and Syria.

by Marc Jourdier