Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

Syria’s Kurds poised for vote to cement federal push

September 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut | Syrian Kurds take part in a rally in Qamishli on September 15, 2017 in support of a planned independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds

QAMISHLI (SYRIA) (AFP) – Syria’s Kurds are poised to hold their first local elections, a move that has annoyed Damascus and Ankara and comes days before a controversial independence referendum by Iraq’s Kurds.Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria’s pre-war population and were long oppressed by the central government.

But they largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.

They have become the key ground force in Syria partnering with the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

In March 2016, the Kurds declared three semi-autonomous regions in the areas under their control, part of their push towards the federal system they have advocated in Syria.

Now they are preparing to hold their first elections in the regions, a vote that has angered Turkey and which Damascus has dismissed as “a joke.”

The unprecedented election will take place in three stages, beginning Friday with a vote for representatives at the neighbourhood or “commune” level.

Elections for executive councils for towns and regions are planned for November 3.

Then, on January 19, a final phase will elect legislative councils for each of the three regions, as well as a single joint legislative assembly.

– Federalism, not secession –

Syrian Kurdish officials insist their goal is not to divide the country, which has been ravaged by a conflict that has killed over 330,000 people.

“These elections are the first step to consolidating the federal system and federal democracy,” said Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, Syria’s most important Kurdish political party.

He distanced Syria’s Kurds from the broader ambitions of Kurds in neighbouring Iraq, who have scheduled a September 25 vote on independence over the objections of allies and the central government in Baghdad.

“We are part of Syria,” he said. “Our demand in Syria is not separation, our demand is federalism.”

Iraq’s Kurdish region has been autonomous since 1991, but authorities have long floated the possibility of full independence.

“In Syria, it’s the first step, in Iraq it may appear to be the last step. In both cases it’s a question of obtaining local and international legitimacy,” said Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute think tank.

Kurdish authorities insist the vote will be inclusive, and banners promoting it in Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac have been hung in cities including Qamishli and Amuda.

But Kurdish opposition parties are not expected to participate in the vote, with competition largely between parts of the current administration.

“These elections will be a simulation of democracy, because there is not a multi-party system and freedom,” said Balanche, noting that all the parties taking part are “members of a coalition led by the PYD.”

“The United States can’t but approve of the elections and close its eyes to their non-democratic nature” because of its close alliance with the Kurds in the fight against IS, he added.

For many Syrian Kurds however, the vote is the realisation of an impossible dream after decades of marginalisation.

“It’s the first time that we’ve seen Kurdish elections,” said 50-year-old Omar Abdi.

“I never believed I would see this day.”

– ‘Illegitimate’ –

Banners across the Kurdish-majority parts of the country known to Kurds as “Rojava” urge citizens to vote.

“The future of Rojava is in your hands,” reads one.

“These elections provide an opportunity for Kurds to start building their institutions for the future,” said Kurdish affairs expert Mutlu Civiroglu.

“It is also important for them to show to (the) regime that in northern Syria things are different now and they run the business, not the regime in Damascus.”

Damascus has remained relatively quiet on the vote.

“The elections are illegitimate,” said Wadah Abed Rabbo, editor-in-chief of Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government.

“Any change to the system in Syria can only be done by changing the constitution, which requires a referendum for all Syrians,” he told AFP.

Neighbouring Turkey considers the PYD and its military wing the YPG to be affiliates of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which Ankara designates a “terrorist” group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fiercely opposes Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence, and has said his country would never allow the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.

For now, Civiroglu said, that is not the plan.

“Kurds in Syria are not secessionists and they want to remain in a unified, pluralistic, decentralised Syria,” he said.

But “they may consider other alternatives if their demands are not met.”

by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut
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Turkey mulls options, rallies support to oppose Kurdish state

September 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Stuart WILLIAMS | Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey, which staunchly opposes Kurdish statehood, is far from alone in its rejection of an independence referendum in northern Iraq but it remains unclear whether this will translate into concrete action.Ankara’s displeasure over the referendum, which is planned for September 25, is shared not only by the government in Baghdad but also by its sometimes prickly neighbour Iran, not to mention Turkey’s Western allies in NATO.

Turkey has warned the Iraqi Kurds they risk paying a “price”, evoking possible sanctions over the non-binding vote. But it has been notably circumspect over what this might mean.

The idea of a Kurdish state — even one outside Turkey’s borders — is anathema not only to Turkey’s ultra-right nationalists but also to its conservatives as well as its secular opposition.

They fear fully-fledged independence for the Kurds of northern Iraq could embolden Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, which is estimated to make up around a quarter of its population of nearly 80 million.

Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people.

They live in an area spanning Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

By far the biggest population is in Turkey, which since 1984 has waged a campaign to defeat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which initially sought to create a breakaway state in its southeast.

– ‘Deep suspicions’ –

But millions of Kurds also live in Iran — which itself fought sporadic insurgent actions by groups like the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) — and Tehran and Ankara have often cooperated to stem the rise of Kurdish nationalism.

After an unprecedented visit to Ankara earlier this month by Iran’s chief of staff, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides could launch joint operations against Kurdish militants although this was denied by Tehran.

Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Tehran and Ankara had a shared interest in preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and also enjoyed extensive communication channels.

But while mainly Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey had the capability to jointly pressure the Iraqi Kurds, a regional rivalry dating back to their imperial eras risked getting in the way.

“Though both have attempted to build on common concerns, deep suspicions about the other’s ambitions to benefit from the chaos have stopped them from reaching an arrangement that could lower the region’s flames,” Vaez told AFP.

– ‘Significant damage’ –

Despite Turkey’s anger over the presence of PKK bases in northern Iraq, Ankara has formed a close economic relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in recent years, giving it immense potential leverage over Arbil.

Iraqi Kurdistan has become one of Turkey’s largest export markets, with prominent Turkish consumer goods and furniture brands ubiquitous on the streets of its major cities.

Meanwhile, Turkey provides the sole transit link for crude oil exports from the KRG through a pipeline via its southern port of Ceyhan.

“Turkey is in a position to inflict significant damage to the Iraqi Kurds if it wants to,” said David Romano, professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University.

But he said cutting economic ties with the Iraq Kurds would risk some $10 billion a year in trade, oil and gas imports and transit fees which are crucial to Turkey’s own Kurdish-dominated southeast.

“Turkey makes a lot of noises against the referendum, but it’s mainly to assuage the Turkish nationalist component of the ruling party’s base,” he argued.

With conspicuous timing, Turkey this week launched war games next to its border with the KRG but has made no concrete threat of military intervention.

– ‘Common ground’ with Assad –

The only clear backing for the referendum within the region has come from Israel, a longstanding if low-key backer of Kurdish ambitions as a non-Arab buffer against the Jewish state’s arch enemy Iran.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin noted that not a single country, “other than Israel”, backed the referendum bid.

Gulf kingpin Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged the KRG leadership to scrap the plan, warning it risked sparking further regional crises.

According to some analysts, rising Kurdish nationalism across the region could even prompt Turkey to find common cause with its prime foe of the last half decade, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Both Ankara and Damascus want to head off the prospect of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria neighbouring the KRG and run by the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) — a Kurdish militia Turkey sees as a terror group and a branch of the PKK.

Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, said Ankara had “de-prioritised” the issue of Assad “in favour of efforts to keep Syria united.”

Turkey has now found “common ground” with the Assad regime in countering the YPG, said Gonul Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

by Stuart WILLIAMS

Afghan President Says Trump War Plan Has Better Chance Than Obama’s

September 20, 2017

(Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy to win the war in Afghanistan will work where his predecessor’s failed because the Afghan army is stronger and Trump wants a regional approach and a harder line with Pakistan.

Ghani also said that former President Barack Obama “did not have a partner in Afghanistan,” implicitly criticizing former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who frequently disdained U.S. policy and the U.S.-led international military force.

“President Trump is not just an individual (but) a team of partners in Afghanistan,” Ghani told the Asia Society in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly. “The Trump administration’s strategy has the uniqueness of immense consultations with us.”

At the same time, Ghani said, Obama’s decision to maintain some U.S. forces in Afghanistan “ensured our survival” despite advances by Taliban insurgents.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on Tuesday that more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops are being deployed to Afghanistan under the new strategy announced last month. The number of U.S. forces would rise to around 12,000, compared to a high of more than 100,000 under Obama.

While providing few details, Trump pledged stepped-up operations against the Taliban and an open-ended commitment of U.S. military advisers, trainers and counter-terrorism units.

He also vowed to take a tougher line to end what U.S. officials say is Pakistan providing refuge and other support to the Taliban and other extremist groups. Pakistan denies the charge.

Asked how Trump’s strategy differs from Obama’s, Ghani said Trump’s plan takes “a regional approach” to security and a harder line with Pakistan while providing a new opening for peace talks.

“The message to Pakistan to engage and become a responsible stakeholder in the region and in the fight against terrorism has never been clearer,” Ghani said. “What I am offering the Pakistan government, the Pakistan security apparatus, is the invitation to a comprehensive dialogue.”

“If Pakistan does not take this opportunity, I think they will pay a high price,” he said, without elaborating.

“Afghans are determined to fight,” he said. “No one should mistake our will to defend our country.”

Not only is the army better trained and profiting from a new generation of soldiers, but it gained experience because the massive cuts in the U.S.-led international force under Obama forced Afghans to assume a bigger role in the fighting, Ghani said.

When it was pointed out that the Taliban have expanded their control of territory, Ghani blamed the inability of the police to hold ground.

The next phase of reforming Afghanistan’s security forces will focus on the police, he said.

As for when the 16-year-long war would end, Ghani said, “I think we are not talking a decade or longer. We are talking some limited years.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)

Stronger Global Relations Require Business Leadership

September 20, 2017

Bloomberg

The private sector can repair and strengthen ties that public officials have allowed to fray.
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By Michael R. Bloomberg
Problem-solvers wanted.

 Photograph: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

As attention focuses on the UN General Assembly in New York, it’s important to remember that in a global economy, America’s relationship with the world does not depend solely on the state of politics along Pennsylvania Avenue. The ties that bind nations together today are deeply connected to trade and investment. Diplomatic relations are often grounded in economic relations, and while chief executives are not diplomats, they can be voices for cooperation on a wide range of issues in which the private sector can play a constructive role, from security to climate change. That dialogue cannot replace official diplomatic channels, but it can help affirm America’s commitment to our allies in concrete ways. Actions taken by private companies can often carry more weight than words spoken (or tweeted) by public officials.

Since January, the Trump administration has been signaling a retreat from the institutions that have played a central role in preserving world order and advancing economic progress over the past seven decades. The president’s failure to affirm Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty at last spring’s NATO summit, his decision to pull out of the UN’s Paris climate agreement, his proposed cuts to foreign aid, and his snail-paced filling of the highest-ranking State Department positions have left world leaders questioning America’s commitment to global engagement. They have also diminished the ability of the U.S. to exercise soft power.

It is my hope, and the hope of many business leaders in both parties, that the Trump administration will reverse course and recognize that the U.S. is stronger as a nation when it leads on the global stage, including through international institutions, than it is when it retreats from it. But we are not holding our breath. Instead, we are seizing the opportunity to remind world leaders that the private sector can repair and strengthen ties that the public sector allows to fray.

This week, leaders of more than 100 companies — many of them U.S.-based — will convene in New York for the first-ever Bloomberg Global Business Forum. More than 50 heads of state, who will be in town for the UN General Assembly, will join them for discussions about how government and business can work more closely together to create jobs, raise living standards and promote security.

While trade policy plays an important role in breaking down barriers between nations, the simple act of increasing dialogue among companies and countries can raise awareness of existing opportunities for, and obstacles to, new investment. Such talks can also lead to public-private partnerships aimed at tackling difficult — and potentially profitable — challenges, from improving agricultural efficiency to building modern infrastructure (where current trends indicate a $15 trillion shortfall in the estimated $94 trillion needed in global infrastructure in the next 15 years).

Governments cannot and will not close the gap on their own — and on a wide array of issues, from public health and safety to broadband access and anti-poverty efforts, they are inherently limited in what they can get done. To address these and other issues, partnerships with companies will be necessary — and also beneficial, because the private sector is often better at allocating resources productively, controlling costs, and using cutting-edge technology to solve problems.

It is important that we find ways to encourage governments to build stronger partnerships with the private sector, and to encourage business leaders to think about the larger public challenges facing societies.

When political alliances are strained, public-private partnerships can pick up the slack, as is now happening with climate change. When Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, chief executives from every major industry announced that the decision would have no impact on their drive to curtail emissions and increase investment in cleaner forms of energy. They recognize that such actions are in their long-term financial health, and many have joined mayors, governors and university leaders in signing on to “America’s Pledge,” an effort to meet and even exceed the emissions-reduction goal that the U.S. set in Paris.

Business leaders have a long tradition of supporting global engagement, through both their work and philanthropy. Bringing chief executives around a table with heads of state carries benefits for both groups. And with so much ambivalence at the White House, and with challenges around the world growing in number and complexity, private-sector leaders should pull up their chairs and get down to the business of using markets, and partnerships, to build a stronger, more stable world.

This originally appeared on FT.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-09-20/stronger-global-relations-require-business-leadership

Putin Attends Military Drills That Worry Russia’s Neighbors

September 18, 2017

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending military maneuvers that have worried his country’s neighbors.

Putin, accompanied by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, attended the Zapad (West) 2017 drills on Monday at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.

Russian and Belarusian troops are participating in the exercises that started last week.

Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.

Russia and Belarus say the exercises, which run until Wednesday, involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops. Some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.

Moscow has rejected the claim and insists the maneuvers don’t threaten anyone.

Afghanistan mulls plan to arm 20,000 civilians to fight insurgents

September 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Emal HAIDARY | Anti-Taliban Afghan fighters listening to their commander during a patrol against Taliban insurgents at Jamshedi, on the outskirts of northern Faryab province

KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan is considering training and arming 20,000 civilians to defend territories where Islamic militants have been driven out, officials say, sparking fears the local forces could become another thuggish militia.The proposal for a government-backed armed group that would protect its own communities from the Taliban and the Islamic State group comes as Afghanistan’s security forces, demoralised by killings and desertions, struggle to beat back a rampant insurgency.

But the proposal has raised concerns that the local forces could become unruly and turn into another abusive militia terrorising the people it is supposed to defend.

“The Afghan government’s expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group said Western diplomats in Kabul familiar with the plan — modelled on the Indian Territorial Army that supports the country’s regular forces — said Afghan officials had expressed concerns the militia could be used by “powerful strongmen” or become “dependent on local patronage networks”.

American and Afghan officials told AFP the fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army and be better trained than the Afghan Local Police — a village-level force set up by the United States in 2010 and accused of human rights violations.

“Right now we rely on commandos and air strikes to retake the lost territories but after the commandos leave we don?t have enough forces to hold onto the territories,” said a senior defence ministry official who asked not to be named.

“The force will operate under an army corps and will be used to fill the gaps. They will be recruited from the locals and will be numbered around 20,000.”

Defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri confirmed to AFP that a plan for “local forces” was being discussed.

“People will be recruited from their areas because they know their regions and how to keep them,” Waziri said, but added there was no guarantee it would be implemented.

A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support train and assist mission also confirmed a proposal for an Afghan territorial army was on the table.

But another American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told AFP the idea was still in “the brainstorming phase”.

– Security quick fix –

The Afghan government and its foreign backers have been cultivating militias to bolster the 330,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defense Forces as they battle to get the upper hand in the grinding conflict.

In Afghanistan, militias — private armies and government-backed armed groups — have a long and chequered history in the war-torn country and many Afghans are wary of them.

Civilian casualties were at record highs in the first six months of 2017, a UN report showed, with forces loyal to the Afghan government accounting for nearly 20 percent of the deaths and injuries.

Since NATO ended its combat mission in 2014 the Taliban has been gaining ground and Islamic State is expanding its footprint.

As of February only about 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were reported to be under government control, according to the US watchdog agency SIGAR.?

Earlier this year Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered a near doubling of the country’s elite fighting force from 17,000 as part of a four-year roadmap that also aims to strengthen Afghanistan’s air force.

While US President Donald Trump’s commitment to increase American troop numbers and leave them there indefinitely has been welcomed by Afghan authorities, they know it will take time to improve the fighting abilities of their security forces.

With parliamentary and presidential elections planned in the next two years they want a security quick fix.

But critics fear that rather than support Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces, the militia could aggravate factionalism and push Afghanistan deeper into conflict.

“It’s a tool that the US military and successive Afghan governments have reached for and it looks like a solution to their problems but actually the real solution would be to have a functioning ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police),” Kate Clark, a senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network, told AFP.

“It’s a dangerous thing to play with, arming your civilians.”

by Emal HAIDARY

Turkey Looking East For New Alliances, Money — Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position

September 16, 2017
BY JONATHAN SPYER
 SEPTEMBER 16, 2017 09:57

 

Three factors underlie Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint news

Turkey this week announced its purchase of the S-400 antiaircraft missile system from Russia. The deal, according to Western media reports, is worth $2.5 billion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media that the first deposit on the system has already been paid.

The S-400, which has a range of 400 km. and can down 80 targets simultaneously, is widely considered to be the world’s most advanced air defense system at the present time. This surprise development is the latest milestone in Ankara’s ongoing drift in recent years away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

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The recent visit of Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri to Ankara, accompanied by a large military delegation, was an additional recent indicator of the direction of events. This was the first such visit since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Turkey’s close involvement in the Russian-brokered Astana diplomatic process regarding Syria reflects this trend, as does the signing in Moscow in mid-August of a contract between the Turkish Unit International company, Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and the Iranian Ghadir Investment Holding for the joint development of three oil fields and a large natural gas field in Iran.

© TURKISH PRESIDENT PRESS OFFICE/AFP | Iranian armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on August 16, 2017

So what are the factors underlying Turkey’s repositioning away from the West and toward its enemies and adversaries? The explanation lies in three areas: Turkey’s perceived immediate interests, the eclipse of its hopes for the region in recent years, and the long-term internal direction of Turkish society and politics.

Regarding the first issue, Turkish concerns at the growing Kurdish power in Syria and Iraq bring it closer to Iran’s agenda and further from that of the West. Ankara has anxiously watched the rise of the Syrian Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) in recent years in northern Syria. The party is an affiliate of the same Kurdish movement as the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), which has been engaged in an insurgency against Turkey and for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. The Syrian Kurds are now ruling over the greater part of the 911-km. border between Syria and Turkey. Only a Turkish military intervention in August 2016 prevented their probable acquisition of the entirety of the border.

Yet more disconcertingly from the Turkish point of view, the Syrian Kurds are today engaged in a flourishing military alliance with the United States and the Western coalition in the war against Islamic State in Syria. From tentative beginnings in the urgent days of late 2014, the Pentagon-organized cooperation between the Kurdish YPG and US air power and special forces has turned into a doggedly effective military blunt instrument, which is currently destroying ISIS in the capital of its dying “caliphate” in Raqqa city.

The Turks have looked on helplessly as this alliance has grown. Their own attempts in early 2017 to propose an alternative partnership between the US and Turkey’s Syrian rebel clients foundered on the low military abilities of the latter and the lack of a clear dividing line between the rebels and Sunni jihadi extremists in northern Syria.

So Turkish prioritization of the need to contain and turn back Kurdish achievements in Syria, as well as its staunch opposition to the emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, bring it into line with Iran’s agenda in these countries, and against that of the West. The West, too, does not support Iraqi Kurdish moves toward independence, but its level of hostility to this and its determination to prevent it fall short of those of Tehran.

In the past, Ankara and Tehran’s joint opposition to Kurdish aspirations did not lead to improved relations between them, because they found themselves on opposite sides of the war between the Assad regime and the Sunni Arab rebellion against it. Similarly, this placed Ankara at loggerheads with Moscow.

But this restraining factor no longer applies. The Sunni Islamist regional project that placed Turkey on a collision course with Iran and Russia has, for the moment at least, largely been eclipsed. Once, it was common among Israeli strategists to count among the region’s alliances a group of countries and movements broadly aligned with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam. This emergent power bloc was a product of the Arab Spring revolts of the post-2010 period. At its high point in 2012, the crystallizing alliance consisted of Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Ankara and the others hoped that the Sunni Arab rebels would swiftly destroy the Assad regime and create an additional conservative Sunni Islamist regime.

This didn’t happen. The Sunni Islamic revolutionary energies of 2010-2012 are now largely spent. There is little to show for them. Egypt is back in the hands of its army. Tunisia is ruled by a coalition government dominated by non-Islamists. Hamas is trying to rebuild its alliance with Iran. Qatar is facing a counterattack from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, because of its stances. And the Syrian Sunni Arab rebels have no further chance of victory and are currently fighting for survival.

Turkey emerges from all this as a major loser. It had hoped to ride the wave of Sunni grassroots revolt to a position of regional dominance. (It also, in the initial phase, flirted with the more radical jihadists of Nusra and ISIS in Syria.) But the wave has spent itself. There is nothing to be gained from further support for the destruction of Assad, which will not happen. This clears the way for rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Russia, through which Ankara will hope to thwart or contain Kurdish gains.

At the same time, the latest evidence suggests that Turkey will seek to use Russian mediation to prevent the total defeat and eclipse of the Sunni rebels. This is a matter both of Turkey’s Sunni identity and of a simple desire to avoid the humiliation of witnessing the destruction of its clients.

The final element underlying Turkey’s drift away from the West relates to internal matters. Erdogan is in the process of dismantling much of Turkey’s republican societal model, and is building in its place an Islamist society. Forty-thousand people have been jailed since the failed coup of July 15, 2016. A state of emergency remains in place. The free media has been silenced, legal immunity for members of parliament removed, journalists and academics arrested.

This new Islamic Turkey will not find its natural home in alliance with the United States and the West, still less with Israel, of course. So there should be no surprise at the sea changes under way in Ankara’s regional and global orientation.

Turkey is too big and too Sunni to ever become a charter member of the Iran-led regional bloc. There remain sharp differences with Tehran over the future of Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq. But all those still entertaining hopes for a return to Turkey’s status as a bulwark of Western security in the Middle East should revise their analysis. The emergent evidence points in a single direction. The Second Turkish Republic is on its way – and its face will be turned toward the East.

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Polish Lawmakers OK More Defense Spending as Russia in Mind

September 15, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved an increase in defense spending to at least 2.1 percent of the country’s GDP in 2020 and at least 2.5 percent of it in 2030, well above the level NATO requires.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz on Friday called the increase a necessary response to “threats from the East” where Russia is “using force to pursue its political goals.”

Russia and Belarus are currently holding major war games near Poland’s border.

The bill still needs approval by the Senate and the president.

Poland is among only five NATO member countries that meet the alliance’s requirement of spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Warsaw sees the need to increase that amount as it modernizes its armed forces and raises the number of troops.

Bomber attacks NATO military convoy in Afghanistan — Romanian soldiers may have been killed

September 15, 2017
© AFP | NATO soldiers keep watch near the wreckage of a military vehicle hit by a suicide car bomber in Kandahar
KANDAHAR (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – A suicide attacker driving an explosives-filled vehicle slammed into a convoy of foreign troops in southern Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, with reports of several soldiers wounded.

The Taliban claimed the attack which Kandahar provincial governor spokesman Fazal Bari Baryalai told AFP “totally destroyed” one of the vehicles carrying Romanian soldiers in Daman district.

Afghan and NATO officials could not confirm reports of casualties but in a WhatsApp message to journalists Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said “seven invading forces” were killed.

The militants routinely exaggerate battlefield claims.

Provincial police chief General Abdul Raziq told AFP the scene had been cordoned off by foreign forces.

The Taliban’s latest assault follows the militant group’s pledge to turn Afghanistan into a “graveyard” for foreign forces after US President Donald Trump’s announcement to keep American boots on the ground indefinitely.

Earlier this month two Taliban suicide bombers launched separate attacks around Bagram Airfield, America’s largest base in the country, that wounded several US soldiers and civilians.

One of those attacks was in direct response to a US drop in the northern province of Parwan, where Bagram is located, that offended many Muslims in the deeply religious country.

The leaflet depicted a lion chasing a white dog — the same colour as the Taliban’s flag — with the Islamic statement of faith — “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah” — superimposed on its body.

Dogs are seen as unclean creatures by some Muslims and the association of Islam with a canine angered many people and sparked protests.

Kremlin Calls North Korea’s Latest Missile Launch Another ‘Provocation’

September 15, 2017

MOSCOW — The Kremlin said on Friday that North Korea’s latest missile test was part of a series of unacceptable provocations and that the United Nations Security Council was united in believing such launches should not be taking place.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments to reporters on a conference call after Pyongyang fired a missile that flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, deepening tension after its recent test of its most powerful nuclear bomb.

“In Russia we are deeply concerned about these provocative launches which are further stoking tensions. Clearly demonstrating that our position is that such launches are unacceptable is the most tangible thing we can do right now,” said Peskov.

“Judging by the United Nations’ Security Council, that is a unanimous point of view which unites Security Council members.”

Peskov also said that President Vladimir Putin was expected to attend the Zapad-2017 military exercises on Monday and would observe the war games from a command center near St Petersburg.

The war games have stirred unease in some countries because Russian troops and military hardware will be training inside Belarus, a Russian ally which borders Ukraine as well as NATO member states Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Peskov said that Putin had held a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier on Friday. He did not provide further details.

(Reporting by Masha Tsvetkova/Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Osborn)