Thursday, December 20, 2018
Martin Chulov in Beirut, Julian Borger in Washington and Andrew Roth
The Kurdish force that has led the ground war against Islamic State in Syria has condemned the White House’s surprise decision to withdraw US troops from the country and claimed it will spark a revival of the terror group.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of Kurdish and Arab units raised by Washington specifically to fight Isis, said the US’s move would have “dangerous implications for international stability”.
Donald Trump has told the Pentagon to extricate its estimated 2,000 troops as soon as possible, with a target of accomplishing the task in less than a 100 days, according to officials in Washington, but defence staff are trying to make the argument for more time and leaving a residual counter-terrorist force of a few hundred.
Reuters reported on Thursday that the Trump administration was also planning to cut short the air war against Isis in Syria. An official told the news agency that a final decision had not been made.
Trump stuck to his decision in the face of fierce criticism from within his own party on Thursday, but changed his justification. On Wednesday, he had argued that Isis was defeated. But 24 hours later, the US president said the withdrawal was to save US soldiers’ lives and dollars.
“Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals?,” Trump asked on Twitter. “Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”
The planned US pullout was announced as Turkey was preparing to send its military into Syria to confront Kurdish militias that it says threaten its sovereignty. The US-backed Kurds are drawn from the same Kurdish groups – a point that has caused friction between Ankara and Washington throughout the four-year campaign against Isis.
The SDF and the YPG, a partner Kurdish militia, described the move as a “blatant betrayal”. One Kurdish leader contacted by the Guardian said the fight against Isis in Syria’s far east would be abandoned immediately, and all SDF units on that front would redeploy closer to the Turkish border.
The SDF responded to the announcement with a blunt statement. “The war against Islamic State has not ended and Islamic State has not been defeated,” it said. Any withdrawal would “create a political and military vacuum in the area, leaving its people between the claws of hostile parties”.
Other Kurdish leaders said the mooted abandonment would cause damage to Kurdish movements elsewhere in the region.
“We have every right to be afraid,” Arin Sheikmos, a Kurdish journalist and commentator, told the Associated Press. “If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the [Syrian] regime, our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. Neither the regime, nor Iran nor Turkey, will accept our presence here.”
By contrast, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president whose military intervened in the Syrian war in 2015, turning the tide in favour of the Assad regime, welcomed the US move.
“If the USA made that decision then it’s the right one,” Putin said during a nationally televised press conference on Thursday, repeating complaints that US troop deployments in Syria were illegal because they were not agreed upon with the Assad government. He said he agreed with Trump that a “serious blow” had been struck against Isis, saying: “Donald is right, I agree with him.”
US allies were not consulted before the announcement of the withdrawal, and have been scrambling since then to find out what it will mean in practice. Ministers from the UK and France, countries with their own special forces in northern Syria, have contradicted Trump’s assessment that Isis had been defeated.
“There is not just the real risk that it lets Daesh off the hook and allows them to re-establish some control, but it could mean foreign fighters held by the SDF are released, and the Iranians and Russians are left a free hand,” a European official said.
France has said its forces will remain in place and the country’s armed forces minister, Florence Parly, expressed French determination to fight on in Syria.
“Daesh [Isis] has lost more 90% of its territory,” Parly said on Twitter. “But Daesh had not been cleared off the map, nor, for that matter, have its roots been cleared. The last pockets of this terrorist organisation must be beaten in a definitive manner by military means.”
However, the few hundred British and French troops in the area are dependent on US logistical support to operate and it would be very hard for them to stay after the US have left.
At the UN, the UK’s ambassador, Karen Pierce, told the security council: “Much remains to be done in the global campaign … and we must not lose sight of the threat Daesh continues to pose, even when they no longer hold territory.”
In August this year, the Pentagon assessed there were as many as 14,500 Isis fighters still in Syria.
Trump’s order for a full, rapid withdrawal of more than 2,000 US troops from Syria, and his declaration of victory over Isis, left Pentagon and state department officials scrambling to interpret an abrupt change in course. In the summer, the policy was to keep forces in Syria to ensure the “enduring defeat of Isis” and act as a bulwark against Iranian influence.
The move appeared to blindside Trump’s most senior officials, many of whom were invested in an ongoing partnership with the SDF.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on Thursday rejected reports that the president’s decision had come out of the blue.
“This was a decision that was made with lots of consultation between all the senior-level officials, including myself, with the president. So yes, did I – I had more than a heads-up,” Pompeo told a radio show.
Administration officials had previously characterised the objective in Syria as “the enduring defeat of Isis”. Since Trump announced his decision, they have said it was the destruction of the “territorial caliphate”.
Throughout the Syrian war, Turkey has prioritised managing Kurdish ambitions in Syria, and potential implications for its own Kurdish populations, above all else. Ankara sees the YPG in Syria as indistinguishable from Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) militants inside Turkey. Ankara views the militant groups as dangerous subversives who threaten its borders despite Syria’s Kurds saying they have no interest in full autonomy, and the PKK having said it no longer aspires to an independent state.
US President Donald Trump has reportedly "lost all patience" and ordered the Pentagon to look into options to cut down the 14,000-strong US contingent in Afghanistan, defying his generals' advice, according to multiple media.
Trump has grown increasingly frustrated over the Afghan stalemate, pushing for the end of the 17-year-long US campaign in the country in the past several weeks, ABC News reported, citing a US official.
"What are we doing there. We've been there all these years," Trump reportedly told an ally at a meeting on Wednesday, Reuters reported. The same day Trump is said to have discussed the potential pullout or a considerable reduction of the US force with his outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton.
The commander-in-chief, however, has not found support for his withdrawal plan, according to ABC. Hours before the deliberations have been reported by US media, Mattis handed in his resignation letter, citing differences in views with the President.
There have been conflicting reports over when the potential pullout can take place.
While ABC News, citing a US official, reported that the troops might be leaving the war-torn country "in the coming weeks,"NBC News, citing two other defense officials, said no concrete decision has yet been made and that the Pentagon is likely to present its report "shortly after the new year."
The reports come at a time a part of the American public and even Trump's allies in the Republican Party have been incensed over his decision to withdraw some 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria after declaring "victory" over Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) there.
Jim Mattis is stepping down as defense secretary, a day after President Trump overruled him and other top national security advisers by ordering the rapid withdrawal of all 2,000 American ground troops from Syria. Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star general, said in his letter of resignation that his views on a number of foreign policy and defense matters were fundamentally at odds with those of the president.
Mr. Mattis did not specifically mention the president’s seemingly impulsive decision on Syria, but he and other top aides were clearly caught by surprise. With Mr. Mattis’s departure, the last of the original group of grounded professionals who have, with at least partial success, restrained Mr. Trump on foreign and defense policy are now gone.
It was fewer than three months ago that John Bolton, the national security adviser, spelled out a broader mission for the American troops in Syria.
At the time, it sounded like an authoritative statement of official policy. Only, as is so often the case with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, it apparently wasn’t.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump summarily overruled Mr. Bolton and the rest of his national security team with his abrupt and dangerous troop withdrawal decision. The move, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale, sowed new uncertainty about America’s commitment to the Middle East, its willingness to be a global leader and Mr. Trump’s role as commander in chief.It appears to have been the final straw for Mr. Mattis, who has walked a tightrope for the past two years between his training and his conscience, and the whims of his president. He kept his concerns mainly to himself, while slow-walking a number of Mr. Trump’s demands, like banning transgender troops and seeking a full-dress military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that Mr. Mattis’s departure was “scary.” He called him “an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
Soldiers have a duty to follow their leader and carry out lawful orders. But success depends on trusting that the leader knows what he’s doing and where he’s going.Sending conflicting orders to soldiers on the battlefield, as Mr. Trump and his administration are doing, not only hampers morale and undermines allied forces like the Syrian Kurds, it could also risk getting American soldiers killed or wounded for objectives their commanders had already abandoned.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters were alarmed. “It is a major blunder,” a Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote on Twitter. “If it isn’t reversed it will haunt this administration & America for years to come.” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who generally supports Mr. Trump, said he and others in the national security establishment were “blindsided” by the announcement. He called for congressional hearings on the decision.
This isn’t the first time the president and his administration have sent mixed messages. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump promised to withdraw troops from Syria and has been looking for a way do it ever since. In April, he gave the Pentagon more time to complete the mission, which since the Obama era has been strictly focused on finishing off the Islamic State. Then Mr. Bolton arrived on the job and declared that “we’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”As late as Monday, James Jeffrey, the State Department’s Syria envoy, told the Atlantic Council that the United States would stay in Syria until ISIS was defeated, Iranian influence was curbed and there was a political solution to the Syrian civil war.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Trump undercut his advisers, and American interests, by reversing course and declaring in a tweet, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” There was no attempt to use the leverage of an American withdrawal to achieve any specific political or military goal.
Mr. Trump’s assertion that the Islamic State is defeated is absurd. “We have won against ISIS,” he boasted in a video. The ability of the terrorists to strike has been significantly degraded and much of the territory they claimed for their so-called caliphate has been liberated. But the group still retains a pocket of land on the Syria-Iraq border and has roughly 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, according to military researchers. As Mr. Jeffrey said Monday, “The job is not yet done.”
No one wants American troops deployed in a war zone longer than necessary. But there is no indication that Mr. Trump has thought through the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal, including allowing ISIS forces to regroup and create another crisis that would draw the United States back into the region.
An American withdrawal would also be a gift to Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, who has been working hard to supplant American influence in the region and who, on Thursday, enthusiastically welcomed the decision, saying, “Donald’s right.” Another beneficiary is Iran, which has also expanded its regional footprint. It would certainly make it harder for the Trump administration to implement its policy of ratcheting up what it calls “maximum pressure” on Iran.Among the biggest losers are likely to be the Kurdish troops that the United States has equipped and relied on to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considers many of the Kurds to be terrorists bent on destroying his country. In recent days he has vowed to launch a new offensive against them in the Syrian border region. Mr. Trump discussed his withdrawal decision in a telephone call with Mr. Erdogan on Friday.
The American withdrawal worries Israel, anxious about Iran’s robust military presence in Syria, and Jordan, which bears a considerable burden from Syrian refugees who fled the fighting across the border. While Israel withheld criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government would escalate the fight against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria once the Americans leave.
Decisions of such consequence normally are thoroughly vetted by a president’s national security advisers. But congressional lawmakers said there were no signs that any process was followed, and a senior White House official, refusing to discuss internal deliberations, said Wednesday, “The issue here is the president made a decision.”
Judging from the timing and tone of Mr. Mattis’ letter of resignation, the president made that decision alone.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that the student unions strengthen democratic culture and defeat dictatorial mindset.
He stated this while talking to a delegation of People’s Student Federation (PSF) Central Punjab, led by its President Moosa Khokhar and General Secretary Waqas Ahmed, who called on him at Zardari House Islamabad on Tuesday evening.
Other members of the delegation included Kamran Nisar Warraich, Hafiz Ahmed Shehzad and Raja Zeeshan.
Bilawal Bhutto said that the PSF has a glowing history and its members have sacrificed a lot for democracy and restoration of the constitution. Several PSF students were imprisoned during their struggle for a better future, he added.
The delegation assured the Chairman that the members of PSF are with him in his political journey and also invited him to visit educational institutions.
Bilawal Bhutto said that the PPP will restore the student unions and this right of students when it comes to power. He asked students to support him as they had supported Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
He said that the PPP will make Pakistan a progressive, democratic and prosperous Pakistan with the philosophy of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the manifest of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman to the former President Asif Ali Zardari and Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the spokesman to the Chairman PPP were also present on the occasion.
Jamal Nasir Baloch
He said if there are pieces of evidence against the enforced disappeared people, if they have committed any crimes than they should be brought in the court of law and Pakistani security agencies should stop arbitrary abductions and human rights violations in Balochistan.
In the West, Free Balochistan Movement (FBM), Baloch National Movement (BNM) and Baloch Republican Party (BRP) organised protests to raise Balochistan’s grave human right situation on the Human Rights Day.
The Baloch National Movement (BNM) protested in Australia, Germany and Holland against Pakistan’s human rights violations in Balochistan. In their official statement, BNM appealed to the world community that they should uphold the International Law and Human rights conventions and act against Pakistani state crimes.
Baloch Republican Party (BRP) organised protests in South Korea, Greece, the United Kingdom and Germany in solidarity with the families of Baloch missing persons. BRP spokesperson said: “Jiand Baloch, his brother and father were abducted. A similar incident was reported in Kech district when a student named Dolat Khan was abducted while travelling back in home in Gorkop, Kech.” He urged human rights organisations to intervene in Balochistan, play their due role and save more lives from being lost and put an end to state atrocities in Balochistan.
In New York City, members of the Free Balochistan Movement have organised a protest in the front of Amnesty International USA. They chanted slogans for the freedom of Balochistan and against human rights violations.
In Germany, members of FBM distributed pamphlets during their three-day human rights campaign in Braunschweig. Activists interacted with the public and explained to them about the human rights situation of Balochistan.
FBM Germany member Nawab Barkat said: “The United Nations drafted the University Declaration of Human Rights to stop similar human rights violations which happened in Europe and other parts of the world during the rise of fascism, but now the world is silent when the Pakistan fascist state is killing and dumping bodies of Baloch people. During our protest, we appealed to human rights organisations and the German government to raise the issues of human rights violations and play their part to recover Baloch missing persons.”In Amsterdam city, members of Free Balochistan Movement arranged an awareness campaign at Amnesty International Netherlands Office. Activists distributed leaflets and highlighted the cases of Baloch Missing Persons.In London, Free Balochistan Movement organised a protest in the front of Amnesty International office and appealed to the NGO that they should urgently raise their voice to save human lives. Many people participated in the demonstration where they were holding banners and placards against human rights violations. While speaking to the demonstration, International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’ London coordinator, Professor ShahzavarKarimzadi, said: “Whoever raises voice against Pakistan army and its atrocities, they get abducted. Some days ago, when few Baloch students participated in a pro-human rights protest they were enforced disappeared and when their other fellows protested against the abduction of their friends they were enforced disappeared too.”
Karimzadi said that according to international law, enforced disappearances are regarded as a crime against humanity. When UN adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) in 2006, Pakistan refused to sign it because it has been forcibly disappearing Baloch people from last several decades. FBM UK branch also submitted a letter to the Amnesty International; the letter highlighted the cases of Baloch women who have been enforced disappeared by Pakistan army in the last few months. “On 7 August 2018, Pakistani forces arrested Adeela Baloch, her six-year-old daughter Surat, four-year-old daughter Sammo and her newborn baby Chammi from Gresha. On 31 July 2018, they abducted Jummal and his wife Bibi Waseema from Gichk area of Panjgur. Pakistani army abducted a 10-year-old Zameer Baloch on 3 July 2018 from Mashkay. About three weeks later, on 23 of July, they abducted his mother Noor Malik 55, and two of his sisters, 22-year-old Haseena and 18-year-old Sameena Baloch. In the same region, four more women were abducted and disappeared on 9 February 2018. The victims include Lal Bibi, Zar Bibi, KhairBano, Sarah, and their children,” the letter said.
Hyrbyair Marri, the leader of the Free Balochistan Movement, was also expected to speak and highlight the issues of Human rights violations in a conference in New Delhi on 10 December, but the event was postponed by the event organiser Delhi Study Group (DSG) because of some visa issues. Vijay Jolly, president of DSG, issued a statement and said that the event was postponed because Marri’s visa application is still pending and a new date and venue for the conference will be announced soon.