Posts Tagged ‘Islamic state’

Afghan forces to launch operation against IS in the north

December 12, 2017


© AFP/File | The operation against IS comes as the group expands its presence in the north after carrying out multiple attacks in Kabul

KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan’s military plans to launch a major operation to stop the Islamic State group making inroads into the country’s northern provinces, officials said Tuesday, after AFP reported that fighters including French nationals were present there.”(The) ministry of defence is planning to launch an operation against Daesh in northern provinces of Sari Pul, Faryab and Jowzjan,” defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for the Middle Eastern jihadist group.

“We know there are foreign fighters among them, but we will eliminate all of them regardless of their nationality,” he said, without elaborating further.

 Image result for afghanistan, Uzbekistan, map

On Sunday, AFP reported that French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, had joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in northern Afghanistan where the militants have established new bases.

European and Afghan local sources confirmed that French citizens were among the fighters in Darzab district of Jowzjan province, suggesting they may have links to Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K), the group’s franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is the first time that the presence of French IS fighters has been recorded in Afghanistan, and comes as analysts suggested foreigners may be heading for the war-torn country after being driven out of Syria and Iraq.

“We have reports that more than 40 foreign Daesh fighters, mostly Uzbeks, are present in Darzab and Qushtepa districts. They are there to recruit locals and train them to become fighters,” Mohammad Reza Ghafoori, a spokesman for the governor of Jowzjan, told AFP.

“The government is planning to launch an operation to clear the area from them soon,” he said, also without giving further details.

When it first emerged in 2015, IS-K overran large parts of eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, though initially its part in the Afghan conflict was overshadowed by the Taliban.

The jihadists have since spread north, including in Jowzjan on the border with Uzbekistan, and carried out multiple devastating attacks in the capital Kabul.



Iraqi Shiite cleric urges fighters to disarm after Daesh defeat

December 11, 2017

Muqtada Al-Sadr (AFP)

BAGHDAD: An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric is urging his fighters to hand state-issued weapons back to the government following the declaration of victory against Daesh.

Muqtada Al-Sadr also called on his forces to hand some of the territory they control to other branches of Iraq’s security forces, but said his men would remain as protectors of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
Al-Sadr’s speech was broadcast on Iraq television on Monday.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared victory over Daesh in a national address on Saturday evening, after Iraqi forces cleared the last Daesh strongholds from Iraq’s western desert.
Al-Sadr’s fighters took up arms against Daesh in the summer of 2014 after the fall of Mosul and are officially part of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces.

Iraq holds military parade celebrating victory over Daesh — Abadi eyes victory

December 10, 2017

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has declared December 10 an annual national holiday. Above, Abadi speaks before security forces after declaring final victory over Daesh on Saturday. (Handout via Reuters)

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi military parade celebrating final victory over Daesh is underway in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, an Iraqi military spokesman said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared final victory over Daesh on Saturday after Iraqi forces drove its last remnants from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory.
Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under Daesh control along the border with Syria and secured the western desert, Abadi said, thus marking the end of the war against the militants.
His announcement comes two days after the Russian military announced the defeat of the militants in neighboring Syria, where Moscow is backing Syrian government forces.
Abadi declared December 10 an annual national holiday.
The parade was not being broadcast live and only state media was allowed to attend, but several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad on Saturday carrying Iraqi flags in a rehearsal for the victory parade.
Fighter jets were seen and heard flying over Baghdad’s skies on Sunday.

Russia declares Syria ‘completely liberated’ from IS jihadists

December 7, 2017


© Dominique Derda, France 2, AFP | A Russian soldier seen at the battle of Deir Ezzor on September 15.


Latest update : 2017-12-07

Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday said its mission to oust Islamic State jihadists from Syria had been “accomplished” with the country “completely liberated” from the extremist group.

“The Russian armed forces’ goal to defeat armed groups of the ISIL terrorist organisation in Syria has been accomplished,” said senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“There is not a single village or district in Syria under the control of ISIL. The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organisation,” he told reporters.

There has been an “unprecedented” involvement by Russia’s airforce in recent days, he said, with warplanes making 100 sorties and staging up to 250 strikes daily.

At the same time, special forces were active on the ground directing planes and “destroying the most odious leaders of militant groups behind enemy lines,” he said.

>> Video: Clearing our Syria’s last Islamic State group strongholds

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said Thursday that IS still holds about eight percent of Deir Ezzor province.

Rudskoi said “separate sabotage bands of ISIL” could still be operating but would be fought by Syrian government troops, indicating that Russia’s involvement would be scaled down.

“With the liquidation of armed bands of the ISIL terrorist group in Syria, the Russian contingent will concentrate its main efforts on providing aid to the Syrian people in rebuilding peace” and ensuring ceasefire commitments were met, he said.

>> Video: What happens once the IS group is defeated in Syria?

Russia began its bombing raids in September 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered forces.

Those strikes have helped Assad regain control over much of war-ravaged Syria.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin said efforts to end the war were entering a “new stage” as the focus shifts from military intervention to political reform.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s rule that sparked a brutal crackdown.


French President Macron arrives in Qatar amid Arab boycott of Doha, uproar over Trump decision on Jerusalem

December 7, 2017

AFP and The Associated Press


© France 24, screen capture | President Macron arrives in Doha on December 7, 2017.


Latest update : 2017-12-07

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Qatar on Thursday for a one-day trip to the small Gulf country as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors.

Macron landed and immediately traveled to the vast al-Udeid Air Base, home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. France also has a contingent of soldiers at the base, which is crucial to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and to the war in Afghanistan.

Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base’s top commanders.

Speaking to coalition soldiers, he said the next few months of battle will determine the outcome of the war against the IS group in Iraq in Syria.

“This military win does not signify the end of the operations and the end of our battle because first we need to stabilize and win peace in Iraq and Syria,” he told troops. “Next spring is decisive in the situation in Iraq.”

Macron also stressed in his remarks at the air base that France wants to avoid partition in Syria and “avoid the domination of certain international elements whose interests contradict peace.”

The French president later will hold talks with Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a multibillion dollar deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. Qatar may announce during Macron’s visit that it will purchase up to 12 more of the French-made Dassault Rafale jets.

Macron’s visit comes just days after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Kuwait failed to bring the standoff any closer to a resolution in the dispute engulfing Qatar. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut relations with Qatar over allegations it supports extremists and has too-close relations with Iran.

Qatar has long denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.

Also likely to come up during Macron’s visit is President Donald Trump‘s announcement that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state.

Before Macron’s arrival, Qatar’s ruler held calls with Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Qatar has, in the past, provided crucial aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant Hamas group, and has helped pay public sector wages in the besieged Palestinian territory.



US military to stay in Syria ‘as long as we need to’: Pentagon

December 5, 2017


© AFP/File | The Pentagon now sees an open-ended troop commitment in Syria
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military plans to stay in Syria as long as necessary to ensure the Islamic State group does not return, a Pentagon official told AFP on Tuesday.”We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.

The United States currently has approximately 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, where they have been helping train and advise partner forces in the fight against IS.

Now that the jihadists have been cleared from all but a few pockets of territory, the United States has been assessing what its presence will be going forward in the civil-war-torn nation.

Pahon said its troop commitment in Syria would be “conditions-based,” meaning that no timeline will determine if and when the US will pull out.

“To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground, or plot external attacks,” he said.

“This is essential to the protection of our homeland as well as to defend our allies and partners…. The United States will sustain a ‘conditions-based’ military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas.”

The announcement is likely to rile Russia, which since late 2015 has conducted a separate military campaign to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Bus Bomb Kills 8 in Syria’s Homs

December 5, 2017
 DECEMBER 5, 2017 13:59

A string of bombings have struck cities under government control in Syria this year, including the capital Damascus.

People and security personnel look on at the area of a blast in Homs, Syria December 5, 2017

People and security personnel look on at the area of a blast in Homs, Syria December 5, 2017. (photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

BEIRUT – A bomb blast killed eight people and injured 16 others on a bus in Syria’s Homs on Tuesday, state media said, citing the city’s health authority.

Islamic State claimed the attack, saying the blast killed 11 members of the Syrian army, its official news agency AMAQ said.

Many of the passengers were university students, Homs Governor Talal Barazi told state-run Ikhbariya TV. The blast in the government-held city hit the Akrama district, near al-Baath university.

Footage showed people crowding around the burned shell of a vehicle in the middle of a street. State television said “a bomb that terrorists planted in a passenger bus exploded.” Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a similar attack in Homs in May, when a car bomb killed four people and injured 32 others.

A string of bombings have struck cities under government control in Syria this year, including the capital Damascus. The Tahrir al-Sham alliance — led by fighters formerly linked to al-Qaeda — has also claimed some of the deadly attacks.

“Security agencies are constantly chasing sleeper cells,” the Homs police chief said on Ikhbariya. “Today, it could be a sleeper cell or it could be an infiltration.” Barazi, the governor, said the state’s enemies were trying to target stability as “the stage of victory” drew near.

The city of Homs went back under full government control in May, for the first time since the onset of Syria’s conflict more than six years ago. Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians were evacuated from the city’s last opposition district, al-Waer, which the army and allied forces had besieged.

With the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, the Damascus government has pushed back rebel factions in western Syria, shoring up its rule over the main urban centers. The army and allied forces then marched eastwards against Islamic State militants this year.


Car bomb blast kills eight in Syria’s Homs

December 5, 2017


© AFP | Civilians watch as security and rescue workers collect the bodies of victims of a car bomb explosion in a predominantly pro-government neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs on December 5, 2107

BEIRUT (AFP) – An explosives-laden bus blew up Tuesday in a predominantly pro-government neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs that has been repeatedly targeted, killing eight people, a monitor said.The blast rocked a street in the Akrama neighbourhood mostly inhabited by members of the Alawite minority to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“At least eight people died when a mini-bus exploded on the edge of the Akrama neighbourhood,” the head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

The attack, for which there was no immediate claim, was confirmed by Syrian state media and officials.

Akrama has been hit by several such attacks in the past, the deadliest of which killed dozens of schoolchildren in October 2014.

© 2017 AFP

Opinion: Arab States Will Likely Cave If Donald Trump Names Jerusalem Israel’s Capital — “Verbal missives will soon subside.”

December 4, 2017


 DECEMBER 3, 2017 22:43

Unless domestic reaction becomes unexpectedly explosive, Riyadh, Cairo and Amman can be expected to confine their responses to verbal missives that will soon subside.

Abbas Salman

Mahmoud Abbas with Saudi King Salman.. (photo credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

If the Palestinians are counting on a strong response from Arab states if the Trump administration recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they are likely to be disappointed.

Image may contain: text

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Malki called Sunday for an emergency meeting of the Arab League amid US media reports that US President Donald Trump is going to deliver a speech on Wednesday in which he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Malki said the meeting would discuss “necessary steps regarding this irresponsible American measure.”

But the bitter reality for the Palestinians is that key Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Jordan with its Palestinian majority and role as custodian of Jerusalem holy sites – are simply too dependent on US goodwill to get into a real row with the Trump administration. This is a case where each of their national interests trumps Arab solidarity.A United Jerusalem Celebrates its Diversity (YouTube/ Israel’s Foreign Affairs Min.)

Unless domestic reaction becomes unexpectedly explosive, Riyadh, Cairo and Amman can be expected to confine their responses to verbal missives that will soon subside.

“They will at least pretend to be objecting vociferously. But as long as he doesn’t move the embassy, they will put up with it after a few days of protesting,” said Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at the University of Haifa. “The moderate Arab states will understand this is a compromise for Trump between his commitments and the practical realities. They’ll protest vocally, but that’s all.”

Given close Saudi-US ties, Riyadh may even be expected by Washington to temper the anger of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the step, according to Brandon Friedman, a Saudi specialist at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center.

“If the rumors are true about tight US-Saudi coordination and a back channel between Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and [Trump adviser] Jared Kushner, the Saudis may be expected to reach out to the Palestinian Authority and to manage Abbas,” he said. “One imagines that at the beginning there will be a lot of aggressive rhetoric among the Palestinians if the US goes ahead with this. But if the US coordinates with the Saudis, it could be their job to reassure the Palestinians to get them to back away from the most provocative things they could do and to manage them. But that will be a tall order.”

The Saudis can be expected to put their own strategic interests before the Palestinian issue, Friedman said.

And their main strategic interest is pushing back against what they perceive as Iranian expansion in the region – be it in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen or Syria. For this, they need Washington, and they are hoping the Trump administration will take a more combative posture toward Iran than its predecessor. This need is more important to them than tangibly backing the Palestinians in a dispute with Washington.

Still, Friedman said, “It is way too early to say the Saudis will throw the Palestinians under the bus. To say that, we need to know more about the American step – what it means and how it affects any final status agreement.”

Jordan’s response will likely also be a function of its dependence on the US.

Jordan Times columnist Daoud Kuttab said in a phone interview from Amman that the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would likely trigger demonstrations called by professional unions, parties and the Muslim Brotherhood. Parliament can be expected to make a very strong statement, he added.

But beyond issuing its own statement, there is not much the palace can do, Kuttab said.

“I don’t think they can do much about the US because they need the US for financial support,” he said. “They can make clear it’s not conducive to peace and that as custodian of the holy places, Jordan will oppose it.”

Jordan received $1.4 billion in aid in 2017.

Kuttab said the fact that the US Embassy in Israel is not being moved and the fact that the Israel Embassy in Amman, a magnet for demonstrations, is closed may temper the protests.

“People look for what is actionable rather than statements,” he said. “The fact that it looks like the embassy move is being postponed means the US is giving lip service, though it is a violation of international law, its own laws and its own commitment.”


‘Iran Has Gotten Away With Murder Since 1979,’ Saudi Arabia Says

December 4, 2017

Haaretz Via Reuters

When Italy organized a conference focused on the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa, it promised to look beyond the turmoil roiling the region and instead promote a “positive agenda.”
But many of the 45 heads of state, ministers and business leaders who attended the event over the past three days saw little future cheer.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, captured the gloom, bemoaning “a lack of wisdom” in the region, with “no hope” on hand for ordinary people hoping for an end to years of conflict, upheaval and sectarianism.

“Maybe I have presented a dark picture, but it is not as dark as I have explained, it is darker,” said Thani, whose country is suffering an economic blockade by its Arab neighbors, which accuse Qatar of supporting

Qatar denies the accusations and the crisis has pushed the tiny, gas-rich state closer to Shi’ite Muslim Iran, the regional rival to Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia addressed the conference, taking turns to trade barbs.

Image result for al Jubeir, photos

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

“Since 1979, the Iranians have literally got away with murder in our region, and this has to stop,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday, accusing Tehran of interfering in the affairs of numerous Arab states, including Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

A day earlier, on the same stage, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of blocking ceasefire efforts in Syria, “suffocating” Qatar, destabilizing Lebanon and supporting Islamic State.

Image result for Mohammad Javad Zarif, photos

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

He also dismissed suggestions that Tehran was meddling in the affairs of its troubled neighbors or that it should stop supporting militia groups, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Casting around for reasons to be positive, most speakers pointed to the defeat of Islamic State, which used to rule over millions of people in Iraq and Syria, but now controls just small pockets of land after months of fierce military assaults.

However, officials warned the group would not die easily.

“It has been defeated as a military force on the ground, but it is likely to go back to cities to create destruction and terror,” said Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, predicting the militant group could still be around in 10 years.

Iraq’s foreign minister bemoaned the destruction it had left in its wake, and called on the world to unite to help rebuild his country in the same way they had come together to fight ISIS.

“The world owes this to us,” said Ibrahim al-Jaafari. “A lot of destruction demands a lot of reconstruction. Mosul is not at all what it was like before. It used to be beautiful. It had a university. Now it is just ruins.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq had come to his country, where an attack on a mosque in Sinai last month had killed more than 300 people. They were also heading to lawless Libya, he said.

Amidst all the talk of war and chaos, there was little mention of diplomatic efforts to restore peace to the region.

“At a time when you have so many sources of tension, so many fuses, so many humanitarian catastrophes, you also have so little diplomacy,” said Robert Malley, vice president for policy at the non-governmental International Crisis Group.

Underscoring this point, no one from the White House administration took part in the conference – a signal some diplomats put down to a general disengagement from the Middle East by President Donald Trump. Last year, the then secretary of state, John Kerry, participated.


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