Tag Archive: Imperial Land of Impeda


May 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey slammed the Trump administration’s decision to supply Syrian Kurdish fighters with weapons against the Islamic State group and demanded Wednesday that it be reversed, heightening tensions between the NATO allies days before the Turkish leader heads to Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the fight against terrorism “should not be led with another terror organization” — a reference to the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of the decades-long Kurdish insurgency raging in its southeast. “We want to know that our allies will side with us and not with terror organizations,” he said.

The dispute could ignite more fighting between the two key U.S. allies in the battle against IS as Syrian Kurdish forces gear up for a major operation to drive the militants from their de facto capital, Raqqa.

Turkey, which has sent troops to northern Syrian in an effort to curtail Kurdish expansion along its borders, has for months tried to lobby Washington to cut off ties with the Kurds and work instead with Turkish-backed opposition fighters in the fight for Raqqa.

But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, of SDF, which has driven IS from much of northern Syria over the past two years with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, are among the most effective ground forces battling the extremists. In announcing the decision on Tuesday to arm the Kurds, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, called the militia “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

On Wednesday, the SDF said it captured the country’s largest dam from the Islamic State group. The fighters, which are Kurdish-led but also include some Arab fighters, said they expelled the extremists from the Tabqa Dam and a nearby town, also called Tabqa.

It was the latest IS stronghold to fall to the Kurdish-led fighters as they advance toward Raqqa — the seat of the militants’ so-called caliphate along the Euphrates River. The fall of Tabqa leaves no other major urban settlements on the road to Raqqa, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.

Ilham Ahmed, a top official in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ political office, hailed the U.S. decision to provide heavier arms, saying it carries “political meaning” and would “legitimize” the Kurdish-led force.

Ankara says the Kurdish militia, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which has been waging a decades-old insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and other Western countries.

Erdogan said he would take up the issue during a planned meeting with Trump on Tuesday. “I hope that they will turn away from this wrong,” he said. Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denounced the U.S. move, saying “every weapon that reaches the (Kurds’) hands is a threat to Turkey.”

The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against IS, Col. John Dorrian, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that the weapons would be delivered to the Kurds soon. The weapons will not be reclaimed by the U.S. after specific missions are completed, he added, speaking by teleconference from Baghdad, but the U.S. will “carefully monitor” where and how they are used.

“Every single one” of the weapons will be accounted for, and the U.S. will “assure they are pointed at ISIS,” Dorrian said, using an alternate acronym for IS. The Trump administration has not specified the kinds of arms to be provided, but U.S. officials have indicated that 120mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said artillery or surface-to-air missiles would not be provided.

Speaking in Lithuania, where he was touring a NATO training site on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the U.S. has had very open discussions with Turkey over its concerns.

“We will work together. We’ll work out any of the concerns. I’m not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our nations,” he said. “It’s not always tidy, but we work out the issues,” he added.

The SDF’s rapid advance against IS last year prompted Turkey to send ground forces across the border for the first time in the more than 6-year-old Syrian civil war to help allied Syrian forces battle IS and halt the Kurds’ progress.

Since then, Turkey is believed to have positioned more than 5,000 troops in northern Syria, and has escalated its airstrikes and cross-border artillery attacks against Kurdish forces. A Turkish air raid in late April killed 20 Syrian Kurdish fighters and media officials, prompting the U.S. to deploy armored vehicles along the border in a show of support for the group.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, Lolita C. Baldor in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Bob Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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April 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Tensions rose Saturday along the Turkish-Syrian border as both Turkey and the U.S. moved armored vehicles to the region and Turkey’s leader once again demanded that the United States stop supporting the Syrian Kurdish militants there.

The relocation of Turkish troops to an area near the border with Syria comes a day after U.S. troops were seen patrolling the tense border in Syria. Those patrols followed a Turkish airstrike against bases of Syrian Kurdish militia, Washington’s main ally in combating Islamic State militants in Syria.

More U.S. troops were seen Saturday in armored vehicles in Syria in Kurdish areas. Kurdish officials describe U.S. troop movement as “buffer” between them and Turkey. But Turkey views Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdish militants who have been waging a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey.

“The YPG, and you know who’s supporting them, is attacking us with mortars. But we will make those places their grave, there is no stopping,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Footage shot Friday night showed a long line of Turkish trucks carrying military vehicles driving to the border area. The private Ihlas news agency IHA reported the convoy was heading to southeastern Sanliurfa province from Kilis in the west. The base is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Syria’s Tal Abyad, a town controlled by the Kurdish militia.

The agency said the relocation comes after Turkish officials announced the completion of a phase of Turkey’s cross-border operation of Euphrates Shield in Syria, adding that the force may be used against Syrian Kurdish militants “if needed.”

Tensions in the border area rose this week when Turkey conducted airstrikes against bases for YPG group in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 militants and wounded scores. The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes.

Erdogan hinted his country is also ready to repeat its attacks in Sinjar, Iraq, to prevent it from turning into a base for the Kurdish militia. Kurdish officials said the U.S. patrols are monitoring the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent an increase in tensions with Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally.

On Saturday, more U.S. troops in armored vehicles arrived in Kurdish areas, passing through Qamishli town, close to the border with Turkey. The town is mostly controlled by Kurdish forces, but Syrian government troops hold pockets of territory there, including the airport.

The convoy was followed by another of YPG militia. Some footage posted online showed Kurdish residents cheering American-flagged vehicles as they drove by. U.S. officials say the troop movement is part of its operations with the Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Ankara sent its troops into Syria last August in a military operation triggered in large part by the Kurdish group’s expansion along its borders. The issue has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington that threatens to hamper the fight against IS. Instead of working with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey is pressing the U.S. to let its army join the campaign for Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of IS.

Erdogan is due in Washington on May 16 for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Claiming that his country is leading the most effective campaign against IS, Erdogan said: “Let us, huge America, all these coalition powers and Turkey, let us join hands and turn Raqqa to Daesh’s grave,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S-backed Syria Democratic Forces. Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the YPG in Syria, said Turkey is reinforcing its border posts opposite Tal Abyad as well as other border posts.

“We hope that this military mobilization is not meant to provoke our forces or for another purpose linked to entering Syrian territories. We don’t want any military confrontation between us, since our priority is to fight Daesh in Raqqa and Tabqa,” Khalil told The Associated Press in text messages.

Khalil said his forces were not building up in the area.

El Deeb contributed from Beirut.

April 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s leader on Saturday urged the United States to stop supporting Syrian Kurdish militants as local media reported the Turkish military has moved armored vehicles and personnel carriers to a base near the Syrian border.

The relocation comes a day after U.S. troops were seen patrolling the tense border in Syria. The Syrian Kurdish militia is Washington’s main ally in combating Islamic State militants in Syria. But Turkey views Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdish militants who have been waging a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey.

“The YPG, and you know who’s supporting them, is attacking us with mortars. But we will make those places their grave, there is no stopping,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Footage shot Friday night showed a long line of trucks carrying military vehicles driving to the border area. The private Ihlas news agency IHA reported the convoy was heading to southeastern Sanliurfa province from Kilis in the west. The base in the area is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Syria’s Tal Abyad, a town controlled by the Kurdish militia.

The agency said the relocation comes after Turkish officials announced the completion of a phase of Turkey’s cross-border operation of Euphrates Shield in Syria, adding that the force may be used against Syrian Kurdish militants “if needed.”

Turkish officials announced the conclusion of the operation in March but have said they would continue combating terror to make its borders safe and rid of IS and Kurdish militants. Tensions in the border area rose this week when Turkey conducted airstrikes against bases for YPG group in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 militants and wounded scores.

The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes between the two sides. The military said the YPG has targeted the Turkish border from Tal Abyad and further west in Afrin. Turkey’s military responded with howitzers.

Erdogan hinted his country is also ready to repeat it attacks in Sinjar, Iraq, to prevent it from turning into a base for the Kurdish militia. Kurdish officials said the U.S. patrols are monitoring the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent an increase in tensions with Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally.

Ankara sent its troops into Syria last August in a military operation triggered in large part by the Kurdish group’s expansion along its borders. The issue has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington that threatens to hamper the fight against IS. Instead of working with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey is pressing the U.S. to let its army join the campaign for Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of IS.

Erdogan is due in Washington on May 16 for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Stating that his country is leading the most effective campaign against IS, Erdogan said: “Let us, huge America, all these coalition powers and Turkey, let us join hands and turn Raqqa to Daesh’s grave,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S-backed Syria Democratic Forces. Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the YPG in Syria, said his group has information that Turkey is reinforcing its border posts opposite Tal Abyad as well as other border posts. He said the purpose of the military reinforcement was not clear.

“We hope that this military mobilization is not meant to provoke our forces or for another purpose linked to entering Syrian territories. We don’t want any military confrontation between us, since our priority is to fight Daesh in Raqqa and Tabqa,” Khalil told The Associated Press in text messages.

Khalil said his forces are not building up in the area and added that the international coalition is now “monitoring” the border.

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed from Beirut.

April 08, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — The fast-moving developments in Syria are never far from people’s minds in an Istanbul neighborhood that is home to thousands of refugees from the country’s civil war. In the Aksaray neighborhood — now known as “Little Syria” — the signs are in Arabic, the cuisine is seasoned with nostalgia and the weary residents are hoping for change after the first U.S. strike on President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The U.S. fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base early Friday, days after a chemical attack widely blamed on government forces killed nearly 90 people in the opposition-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun. Opponents of Assad welcomed the move, but many in Little Syria feel that more should be done to end the grinding, six-year civil war.

“We are fed up of bombings, what we already lived through is enough,” said Samer Maydani, who hails from Damascus and owns a coffee shop in Little Syria. “We need political solutions through the U.N. and the Security Council.”

“After seven years of destroying us, we don’t trust anyone,” he said. “If (U.S. President Donald) Trump and the international community want change, they should just ask Assad to leave.” Turkey is home to some three million Syrian refugees, 480,000 of whom live in Istanbul. The Turkish government welcomed the U.S. strike and has called for renewed efforts to remove Assad from power.

Across the street from Maydani’s coffee shop, Hussein Esfira, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, works 14-hour shifts as a butcher in a Syrian restaurant. He says he has little time left to follow politics, but feels the U.S. could do more.

“Why are they bombing?” he asked. “Everyone is seeking to take a piece of the cake.” “Instead of bombing, the U.S. can intervene for the sake of a peaceful solution,” he said. The owner of a nearby pastry shop agrees. Anas Jamous, who also comes from Aleppo, said that if the international community wanted to end the war, “they would have done so five years ago.”

He is still angry about Trump’s travel ban, which would have barred people from Syria and five other Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States until stricter vetting procedures are put in place. The ban also temporarily suspended the U.S. refugee program.

He said the ban, which has been blocked by the courts, “expresses a deep hatred against Muslims from the American government.”

September 20, 2016

UC Berkeley has reinstated a course on Palestinian history which was suspended last week.

The school’s dean announced the decision after the teacher revised the course description.

“Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class.

Activists protested against the decision saying it threatened academic freedom.

Paul Hadweh, a student who teaches the one unit course, said he wasn’t told that it had been suspended.

“The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me,” Hadweh said. “To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160920-uc-berkeley-reinstates-palestine-course/.

By Richard Tomkins

Aug. 26, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 26 (UPI) — The U.S. Air Force this week has delivered the final four of 27 MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopters to the Afghan air force in the capital city of Kabul.

The helicopters were flown to Afghanistan from Travis Air Force Base in California aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Like the previous shipment of five MD-530s in July, these newest helicopters have the capability to fire rockets or .50-caliber machine guns. They also have a new sighting system that wasn’t on the initial 13 helicopters, according to Lt. Col. Bill Ashford, USAF 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

“The first 13 helicopters continue to be modified to support 2.75-inch rocket capabilities and add the improved sighting systems,” he said.

The MD-530 is a light helicopter. It is operated by a one- or two-person crew, has a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour, and a range of 375 miles.

“The MD-530s are flying multiple missions a day across Afghanistan,” said Ashford. “They are often engaged in providing aerial escort to convoys, providing over-watch to ANDSF operations and responding to ‘troops in contact’ situations.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2016/08/26/Afghan-air-force-gets-more-MD-530-helicopters/2451472223844/.

By Geoff Ziezulewicz

May 10, 2016

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) — Pakistani officials are pushing back against concerns from U.S. lawmakers over a planned $700 million F-16 fighter jet sale.

The country needs the eight F-16s for its battle against terrorists, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said Saturday, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn. As such, Chaudhry said, no conditions should be attached to the jet sale, Dawn reported.

The deal initially called for Pakistan to foot roughly $270 million of the $699 million price tag, with the rest coming from the U.S. Foreign Military Financing fund, according to Dawn.

But the proposed plan, announced on the U.S. side in February, has come under fire from U.S. politicians concerned over Pakistan’s track record battling Islamist extremism and how such a sale could affect tensions with neighboring India. The deal would also include training, maintenance and logistical support.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, R-Tenn., allowed the F-16 sale to go forward in February, but he used his power as a chairman to block any U.S. help in bankrolling the deal, Politico reported.

Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned the wisdom of selling the F-16s to Pakistan.

“The Pakistanis have been an unreliable partner over the course of the last 10 years in the fight against extremism,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on the Senate floor. “But what I worry more is that these F-16s will provide cover, will provide substitute for truly meaningful action inside Pakistan to take on the roots of extremism.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., insisted the deal go through as planned. “It is pretty standard to help with the financing, especially of countries that one, are not very wealthy, and two are our allies,” McCain said. “And it’s important they have these capabilities.”

U.S. House members have also expressed concerns about the sale recently.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., criticized “the Administration’s recent attempt to subsidize with taxpayer dollars the sale of F-16s to Pakistan” during an April 27 Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“Many Members of Congress, including me, seriously question the judgment and timing of such a sale,” Salmon said in his opening statement. “Additionally, India-Pakistan tensions remain elevated, and some question whether the F-16s could ultimately be used against India or other regional powers, rather than the terrorists as Pakistan has asserted.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2016/05/10/Pakistan-pushes-back-on-US-F-16-sale-opposition/8441462804091/.

June 4, 2016

Muhammad Ali, one of the most influential sports figures in the 20th century, has passed at the age of 74 in Phoenix, U.S., a family spokesman has confirmed to media.

A boxing legend, Ali won the heavyweight title three times and was known for his unorthodox fighting style merging power and agility. Off the ring, he was famous throughout the globe for his charismatic personality, as well as social and political activism.

“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening,” family spokesman Bob Gunnell told NBC News.

In 1967, three years after he won his first title, Ali refused to be drafted during the Vietnam War even though he registered for military service, presenting himself as a conscientious objector. Ali was stripped of his title, had his boxing license suspended, and a court found him guilty of draft evasion. His conviction was eventually reversed by the Supreme Court.

As the tide turned and public opinion shifted on the war, Ali became a spokesman for the anti-war sentiment, giving speeches at universities across the United States, even as he became increasingly active in the Civil Rights movement.

A convert to Islam, Ali advocated religious freedom. Initially a member of the Nation of Islam movement, which combined elements of religion and African American political activism, Ali converted to Sunni Islam after falling out with the group in 1975.

Ali leaves behind his wife Lonnie, seven daughters and two sons, as well as a legacy likely to remain unmatched as a boxer and world-renowned public figure.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160604-boxing-legend-muhammad-ali-dies-at-74/.

December 31, 2015

When she was 16, Rana Abdelhamid was accosted on the streets of New York by a man who tried to pull off the head scarf she wears as a symbol of her commitment to her Muslim faith.

Rather than withdraw, as she’d seen other Muslim women do, she turned her anger into a program that is now working with young Muslim women to teach them self-defense while encouraging them to become leaders and role models for others in their communities.

Abdelhamid, a graduate of Vermont’s Middlebury College who is now a student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, says the challenge facing Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular has been getting worse, especially since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s becoming more needed and we’re getting so many calls,” said Abdelhamid, 22, who grew up in the Queens borough of New York. Robina Niaz, the executive director of the group Turning Point for Women and Families, an organization that works to end domestic violence in New York’s Muslim community, said she first met Abdelhamid when she was in high school and participating in programs at the center.

“Rana is a living example of what one can accomplish when we invest in these young girls,” Niaz said. “If we believe in them, if we support them, watch their back — they need just a little bit of nudging and mentoring and they are ready.”

Muslim women in several cities across the country are organizing or taking self-defense classes, but Abdelhamid’s organization, the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment, or WISE, goes beyond the physical self-defense skills to encourage the young women to become leaders and social entrepreneurs. The empowerment lessons can be as simple as showing the young women how to rent or reserve a room in a community center to tips on becoming a confident public speaker.

Abdelhamid said her efforts have not been universally well received by the Muslim community. “We have had some challenges and pushback from more traditionalist members of our community who don’t necessarily see space for women in leadership, unfortunately,” she said. “It’s really, really disheartening because you want your allies to be within the community.”

The program has grown since the first class was offered to about a dozen girls in the basement of a community center in Brooklyn. The basic program, called Mentee Muslimah (an Arabic word for Muslim women), is a 13-session summer camp attended in New York by about 50 young women of high-school age that follows a 100-page course outline Abdelhamid developed during an independent study course at Middlebury.

The organization relies heavily on donated space and volunteers, but it’s also received donations and in some cases fees are charged to people taking the program to help defray expenses. She’s in the process of setting up a formal non-profit group so WISE can have a permanent home and a budget. While an undergraduate at Vermont’s Middlebury College, Abdelhamid used a grant from the school’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship to expand her organization.

“What makes Rana really unique that we saw in her is that this is an issue that is connected to her identity and it drives her all the time,” said Heather Neuwirth, the associate director of Middlebury’s Entrepreneurship Center. “She took what could have been an experience that could have shut her down, she really realized the power in that and I think the way that she connects to others is deeply caring.”

Abdelhamid sometimes travels to lead programs outside New York, but most are led by people who have taken the program and then been trained to teach it. The summer programs outside New York are held in Union City, New Jersey, Washington, Dallas, Madrid, and Edinburg, Scotland. She’s working on setting up programs in Chicago, Dublin and Istanbul. Next month WISE also is planning a three-day program in Boston for Jewish women.

Nitasha Siddique, a 19-year-old student at Princeton, said she got involved with WISE after her junior year in high school when she was accepted into the New York summer programs. “There were a lot of really important conversations I’d never had before, but had the opportunity to have these conversations and have them with a group of girls who were close to me in age,” she said.