Saturday, September 7, 2019
President Donald Trump said Saturday he is suspending peace negotiations to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bomb this week that killed an American and several others.
The president said that Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were set to make a surprise trip to the United States this weekend, presumably to finalize an agreement that has been in the works for months to significantly reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Instead, Trump said he is canceling that meeting.
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump asked in a tweet Saturday.
The president disclosed that he had planned to meet with Taliban and Afghan officials on Sunday at Camp David, but that once-secret plan has been called off.
Trump has said he wants to pull thousands of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. His administration has been negotiating with the Taliban to reduce the roughly 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan. A U.S. envoy said that an initial agreement had been reached but Trump has remained noncommittal about whether he supported it.
As recently as Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. had “delivered” on its promises in Afghanistan.
“If you go back and look at the days following 9/11, the objectives set out were pretty clear: to go defeat al-Qaeda, the group that had launched the attack on the United States of America from Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in an interview with a conservative website. “And today, al-Qaeda … doesn’t even amount to a shadow of its former self in Afghanistan … We have delivered.”
The State Department referred questions to the White House.
Trump's desire to reduce America's military presence in Afghanistan has been fraught with political and military peril. Critics – including some of Trump's strongest supporters – fear a U.S. withdrawal will open the door for a resurgence of al-Qaida, as well as other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State.
Two NATO services members, including American, were among a dozen people killed in the attack in Kabul on Thursday.
Brett Bruen, a former foreign service office and global engagement director for President Barack Obama, expressed shock that any American president would invite the Taliban, a militant Islamic group that has targeted American soldiers throughout the war, to the U.S.
“Coming to the United States, let alone to a presidential retreat is a prize saved for when reap concessions have been made,” Bruen told USA TODAY. “As we have seen in North Korea, Trump’s negotiations with our adversaries are marked by their preference for style over strategy. Ultimately it is a recipe for damaging our influence and the prospects for peace.”
by Abdulaziz Kilani
At a time when Jordan’s economy is going through a crisis, it has become apparent that Amman is shifting its foreign policy. In July, the Hashemite Kingdom appointed a new ambassador to Qatar, which comes two years after it downgraded its relations with Doha as part of the Gulf crisis. In the same month, top Turkish officials visited the kingdom. These could be signs of Jordan aiming to deepen its ties with the two countries.
Although Jordan did downgrade its ties with Qatar in 2017, it did not cut off relations completely or join the so-called Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ)—Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt—in their anti-Qatar blockade, as the Saudis seem to have hoped it would. In fact, it is believed that there has been ongoing communication between Jordan and Qatar during the two year Gulf crisis.
As a country that aims to play a positive role in the Middle East by hosting refugees and offering mediation where needed, the kingdom has withdrawn its support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Of course, such a withdrawal will not please Saudi Arabia, but the Jordanian government prefers diplomacy to getting involved in a war that has led to what is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. This became evident when it hosted the second round of the Yemeni peace talks earlier this year.
“Since the election of President Donald Trump, Jordan has been increasingly aware of the changing regional undercurrents and their possible effects on the stability of the kingdom at a time when Amman was battling chronic economic conditions,” Jordanian political commentator Osama Al Sharif told LobeLog.
Al Sharif pointed out that, in response to changing geopolitical conditions, Amman has realigned the kingdom’s foreign policy towards traditional allies.“King Abdullah was quick to take his country out of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. He also maintained diplomatic ties with Iran at the height of the Riyadh-Tehran tensions while getting closer to Turkey’s Erdogan even as Ankara’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt had worsened. The same can be said of Qatar, where Jordan stopped short of terminating diplomatic ties with Doha and recently reappointed an ambassador there.”
One of the main challenges that Jordan is dealing with at the moment, which may reflect a disagreement between Amman and Riyadh, involves its approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In March, during the 29th Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union conference that took place in Jordan, Saudi Arabia—alongside the United Arab Emirates and Egypt—opposed a recommendation that called for stopping normalization with Israel. However, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives, Atef Tarawneh, refused to remove it from the conference’s final statement.
There are doubts as to whether the Saudis have really been competing with Jordan over its role as the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.”The Saudis are aware that they are not competitive to the Hashemite family when it comes to the history of Islam,” Jordan’s former foreign minister, Kamel Abu Jaber, told LobeLog. “King Abdullah is the 43rd generation direct descendant to the Prophet Muhammad and the Saudis know this fact.”
Amman—which is committed to a two-state solution—has made it clear that it will not change its position on Jerusalem. King Abdullah said back in March, days after his return from a visit to the U.S., that Jerusalem is a “red line” for him and stressed that “no one can pressure Jordan on this matter.”
Officials in Jordan are seemingly aware that, with over 2 million registered Palestinian refugees in the country, the kingdom may be the first country to suffer should the Trump administration implement its long-awaited peace plan for the Middle East. There appears to be a fear that if the plan were to force more Palestinian refugees to seek asylum outside the occupied West Bank and Gaza, they would most likely have no place to go apart from Jordan.
That, in turn, would have a devastating impact on the kingdom because of the present severe economic crisis the country is experiencing. Jordanian public debt equals 95% of annual GDP and the youth unemployment rate is 41%, according to The Economist, which also pointed out in June that over a million of Jordan’s 10 million people are poor.
Although Jordan has dealt with economic weakness, high youth unemployment, and high poverty for some time, economic conditions in the kingdom have worsened lately due to the influx of refugees and the decline of foreign aid. Last year, IMF-backed austerity measures led to widespread protests in the kingdom, which resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Hani Al Mulki. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE held a summit in Mecca in the presence of Jordan and pledged to give $2.5 billion to the kingdom, but so far Jordan seems to have not received much of that sum.
Doha has pledged to provide 10,000 jobs and $500 million in investments in Jordan, a move that is undoubtedly appreciated by officials in Amman. So far, 5,000 Jordanians have already obtained work permits in Qatar. Moreover, on Sunday it was reported that King Abdullah invited Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to visit the kingdom, and that the latter “welcomed” the invitation, another sign of the closeness in relations between Amman and Doha.
“Jordan has never wanted to have any kind of relationship but an excellent one with all the Gulf States, including Qatar,” Abu Jaber said. “It is the natural thing for Qatar and Jordan to strengthen their relations at this time.”
Jordan has been keen to maintain its relations with all regional countries. However, recent events have shown that there are areas in which Amman and Riyadh differ when it comes to regional issues, mainly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A Jordan-Qatar-Turkey alliance will likely be more aligned with the Palestinians in their approach to that conflict. What remains to be seen is how effective this alliance will be in advancing the Palestinian cause.
Thursday 15 August 2019
Thursday 15 August 2019
Report accuses Saudi coalition of whitewashing investigations into civilian casualtiesA team of international lawyers and a Yemeni human rights group have submitted new evidence of alleged Saudi war crimes to the UK government in a bid to stop the sale of British weapons to the kingdom. The nearly 300-page report alleges a litany of international law violations by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. It further claims that the Riyadh covered up evidence of war crimes in subsequent investigations into deadly airstrikes.
The evidence was collected by researchers from the independent Yemeni rights group Mwatana and submitted to the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and UK law firm Bindmans. It involved extensive on-the-ground research and analysis of airstrikes in which civilians were killed.
“The coalition has continued to carry out apparently unlawful attacks throughout the course of the conflict, failed to credibly investigate, and whitewashed significant civilian harm,” the two organisations said in a statement.
The report specifically takes aim at the coalition’s own mechanism for investigating claims of civilian casualties – the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT).
The British government has repeatedly used the existence of the team to justify continued weapons sales.
Former prime minister Theresa May said of the process in 2018: “Where there are allegations that activity has taken place that is not in line with international humanitarian law, they [the Saudis] investigate that and they learn the lessons from it.”
But researchers detail at least 12 incidents in which civilians were killed and where the JIAT denied the coalition had carried out an airstrike, despite those claims being “directly contradicted by witness and photographic evidence”.
One such incident was an attack by the coalition on a funeral in the rebel-held city of Hodeidah on 21 September 2016, which killed 23 people, including 5 children. The new report comes as the British government prepares to respond to a Court of Appeal judgement that forced it to freeze sales of UK arms to Saudi Arabia while it reconsidered whether they could be used to violate international humanitarian law.
The court found in June that the government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”. Judges said that it was “irrational and therefore unlawful” for the international trade secretary to license weapons exports without assessing past allegations and whether there was a “clear risk” of future breaches. Riyadh intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to reinstate the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The United Nations has accused the Saudi coalition of “widespread and systematic” strikes on civilian targets.
The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has admitted to causing civilian casualties in the past, but attributes the deaths to “unintentional mistakes”, and says it is committed to upholding international law. Together with the US, the UK has played a major role in supporting the coalition’s military campaign against the Houthis – who have also been accused of war crimes by the UN.
The organisations behind the report that they hoped the new evidence would lead the British government to halt all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“This evidence will assist the UK government in deciding whether to grant further arms sales licenses for Saudi Arabia,” said GLAN director Dr Gearoid O Cuinn. “They can either continue to rely on discredited Saudi/UAE-led coalition assurances, or listen to those who have painstakingly documented the constant civilian deaths caused by coalition airstrikes. Multiple European states have already suspended arms sales and now the case for the UK doing the same could not be stronger,” he added. Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who sits on the Committees on Arms Controls in the Commons, accused the government of breaking the law in granting arms export licences for Saudi Arabia.
“Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid both illegally signed off arms export licences according to the Court of Appeal because they failed to consider Saudi Arabia’s record deliberately or recklessly attacking civilians in Yemen,” he told The Independent. “This new evidence shows a pattern of international humanitarian law violations by the Saudi-led coalition which means, under UK law, all extant licences should be rescinded immediately.”
British planes and British bombs are spearheading the killings. Politicians and the media must raise their voices in opposition.Nothing can diminish the threat of a disorderly Brexit, or the significance of Boris Johnson’s recent anti-democratic prorogation of parliament. That those stories lead the news is no surprise. But when our government provides crucial support to a campaign of indiscriminate killing in Yemen that has claimed the lives of thousands of people, and this is treated as a footnote in our politics rather than a national scandal, it is plain that something has gone badly wrong.
This week a report by UN experts warned that Britain could be complicit in war crimes through its arming of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervening in Yemen’s civil conflict. The report is the latest in a long line from the UN and the world’s most respected NGOs documenting a consistent pattern of violations. The experts note that leading arms providers like the UK “have a specific influence” on the belligerents “and may be held responsible for providing aid or assistance for the commission of international law violations”.
About 100,000 people have met violent deaths since March 2015, and the blockade imposed by the Saudi-UAE coalition is the primary cause of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing millions to the brink of famine. Save the Children estimates that 85,000 infants have died from starvation or preventable disease. The UN experts raise the real possibility that starvation is being employed as a war tactic. British complicity in that ought to be unthinkable.
Aerial bombing by the Saudis – frequently indiscriminate – is responsible for most of the civilian deaths, and that bombing is completely dependent on British and American support. The US and UK supply the bombs, the planes that drop the bombs, training for the pilots, and the spare parts and maintenance that keep the planes in the sky. Any idea that these complex weapons systems would simply be replaced by Russia or China were Britain to refuse to provide this support is a myth. The reality is that Washington and London could have stopped the Saudis’ war any time they liked.
This indefensible situation has continued for so long partly because it has not received a level of political attention commensurate with the magnitude of the catastrophe. Our government is to blame for its own policies, but the failure to put sufficient pressure on it to end those policies is something the rest of us are responsible for.
Politicians of the centre, for example, are never shy of flaunting their supposed internationalist credentials, but many of these same figures either support or have nothing to say about British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, most of the British-built planes now pulverising Yemen were sold to the Saudis by New Labour. The Jeremy Corbyn leadership has the correct stance on Yemen in opposing the current British role, but it is hard to believe that the official opposition could not have done more to push the issue up the agenda, given the depth of British complicity in the suffering of that country’s people. The media also have questions to answer. Academic observers like myself owe a debt to brave journalists like Iona Craig, Bel Trew, Nawal al-Maghafi and Orla Guerin, whose reporting from Yemen is invaluable to our research. But collectively, this story is not given the sustained prominence it needs if the government is going to be held to account. Too much of the commentariat, while enthused by the prospect of Britain staging a “humanitarian intervention” when an official enemy is committing atrocities, appear unable to comprehend a situation where the atrocities are being committed by Britain’s allies with Britain’s help. These failures extend to wider civil society too. Leading NGOs have done indispensable work in documenting the war’s costs and attempting to raise the alarm. Campaign Against Arms Trade launched a judicial review of UK arms sales whose recent court success has caused a big headache for Downing Street. But large swathes of the left have simply not done enough. It is tragic that the major demonstrations we saw over the invasion and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have never materialised to end the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. These collective failings have let the government and its Gulf allies off the hook, and Yemeni civilians have paid the price. For a nation that talks endlessly about its place in the world, much of Britain’s political culture remains intensely parochial, self-absorbed, and remarkably casual about the huge humanitarian costs of its behaviour in the global south. This mixture of chauvinism and unconscious racism is of course a legacy of empire. And it is by no means limited to the Brexiteers. There are, however, competing traditions to be found in Britain, of genuine internationalism and solidarity. Two-thirds of the public oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including half of Conservative voters. There is enormous potential for civil society and the political class to give voice and force to these passively-held opinions. Britain is more than capable of doing right by the Yemeni people. But first we will need to take a long, honest look in the mirror.
A recent UN Human Rights Council report has exposed the US, UK, and France’s role in the destruction of Yemen, prompting conversations about the accountability of those responsible for the carnage.
Renowned activist, press freedom advocate, and Nobel Laureate Tawakul Karman once told the Yemen Times that “a day will come when all human rights violators pay for what they did to Yemen.” This statement was made years before the US, UK, and France enabled a Saudi-led coalition to ravage Yemen’s entire civilian population through a host of criminal actions.
Thanks to a UN report released on Tuesday this week, we may be closer to seeing some accountability for the criminal actions of all human rights violators who have used the people of Yemen in a cruel, geopolitical chess game to further their own agenda. But will Western governments be held accountable, or is this yet another case of wishful thinking?
For those who have followed and documented the Yemen conflict closely, the UN report doesn’t exactly tell us anything we didn’t know or suspect already. The document says that the US, UK, and France, as well as the obvious culprits in the Saudi-led coalition, have some degree of complicity in a range of potential war crimes over the past five years, including airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and starvation as a method of warfare.
It is interesting to note that the UN experts identified individuals who may be responsible for international crimes and has passed those names on to the UN High Commissioner. Where locating names were not possible, the experts made notes of the groups responsible instead.
Perhaps this time around, the UN Human Rights Council – which, by the way, has Saudi Arabia as a member until the end of the year – is not playing around.
“This endemic impunity – for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict – cannot be tolerated anymore,” said the panel’s chairperson. “Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people. The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation.”
According to the UN report, the implications of this are further reaching than one might expect. If we were to adopt the report’s findings, even countries such as Australia should re-examine its policies.
No need to fret however, because according to a spokesperson for the British government, “the UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to bring a diplomatic solution to the appalling conflict in Yemen.”
Well, actually, the UK government assists the Saudi-led coalition in bombing Yemen by having its personnel sitting in the command and control room that coordinates the delivery of strikes, providing British-made bombs to rain destruction on Yemen, training Saudi pilots, maintaining and preparing British planes inside Saudi Arabia with the help of British engineers and thousands of British contractors, providing troops to assist with the Saudi-led ground mission inside Yemen, and the list goes on.
As a BAE employee told the UK’s Channel 4, “they [the Saudis] couldn’t do it without us. If we weren’t there, in 7 to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”
Perhaps this is what prompted British Historian Mark Curtis to tweet, “No postwar Minister has ever been held to account for war crimes abroad, despite numerous horrendous episodes in UK foreign policy.”
But let’s not give France a free pass either. While President Emmanuel Macron tours the world under the guise of a humanitarian, calling for level-headedness, tolerance, respect and diplomacy across the planet, the report is a stark reminder that France is just as colonially motivated to batter poor countries behind closed doors.
A leaked document from France’s Military Intelligence Branch of the Ministry of Defense made known the deliberate use of French weapons in the Yemen war. The arms include tanks and laser-guided missile systems which were sold to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the leading front-runners of the war. The document was even reportedly presented to Macron himself, who can hardly hide behind the cloud of his exterior image as a peace-broker (previously, France said weapons sold to the Kingdom were for self-defence purposes only). According to the reports, satellite images, video and photographs taken by civilians affirmed that some of these tanks bought by the UAE had taken part in coalition offensives, including the brutal campaign to bully Hodeidah into submission.
As is the case with the UK, the French role in the conflict goes beyond that of arms sales. Reports state that from the beginning of the war, French personnel “flew reconnaissance missions” over Houthi positions for the benefit of Saudi Arabia, and continued to train its fighter pilots. The French Navy once even reportedly stepped in to ensure the continuation of the economic blockade on Yemen when Saudi Arabia’s fleet withdrew for maintenance in 2016.
The role of the United States in this atrocity is abundantly apparent to anyone who has followed the conflict, or understands the basic nature of Middle Eastern geopolitics. I could write entire books on this topic if I had the time.
But what will be intriguing to see is if this report is the first step in a direction which sees the United States held accountable for its participation in these international criminal acts. According to an email response I received from the UN, the Human Rights Council is hoping that as their work continues, their findings and recommendations will evolve as a result. They note, however, that many states are opposed to this scenario.
There was a brief period of time when the ICC appeared to suggest it would begin tackling the juggernaut that is the US for its crimes committed in Afghanistan, but the hopefulness for that project fell apart completely earlier this year. If we can’t get an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, then who knows what we can hope to achieve in the field of human rights in the short-term future.
The irony is that the three main culprits: the US, UK, and France, tend to trudge around the globe lecturing the world on matters of human rights, freedom, and democracy. None of these principles apply to the people of Yemen, who are being collectively punished for reasons which still remain unclear to me.
In my opinion, the timing of the report’s release could not be any more appropriate and could potentially generate a global discussion on the unfortunate situation plaguing Yemen (the poorest, most impoverished nation in the Arab world). Just days ago, a barrage of coalition air strikes killed over 100 people and wounded dozens more at a Houthi detention centre in Yemen. Putting international law to one side, even a layman would have to think that a detention centre is off-limits in a warzone by its very definition. (They’re detained; where can they possibly run in the event of an air strike?)
According to the head of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, “90 body parts” were recovered during the initial response to this recent attack. An excessively cruel act, even for the Saudi-led coalition.
One can only hope that the UN report can help put a stop to these types of attacks in the future, not by pressuring Saudi Arabia and its coalition, but by influencing the decision-makers who enable these horrific acts to go ahead unabated. As I said, the UN report didn’t confirm anything we didn’t already know, nor did it detail anything that lawmakers across the planet didn’t already know for years. In other words, we have long known the potential legal ramifications for our support for a coalition which pulverises Yemen, and this hasn’t changed our mindset. Hell, it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for Germany to change its tune (the killing of innocent civilians doesn’t quite cut it).
Then again, to have a two-year investigation in writing by a UN expert group certainly helps our cause, and may ultimately help Tawakul Karman’s prophecy come true in the medium to long-term future.
On Aug. 31, the Hong Kong police arrested a 13-year-old protester carrying two gasoline bombs and a lighter in an attempt to set a subway station on fire. A few days earlier, the police also apprehended a 12-year-old boy holding an iron bar during the Tsuen Wan and Kwai Tsing march.
It worries the public that teenagers have been involved in illegal demonstrations and have served as pioneers of violence.
The demonstrations in Hong Kong have developed into extreme violence.
In recent weeks, the protesters shut down Hong Kong International Airport and attacked the police, undermining the social order, and seriously challenging the rule of law. They employed sharpened iron rods, gasoline bombs and metal barricades, continually upgrading their weapons and threatening lives and property in Hong Kong.
Teenagers may think it's "cool" to get out on the street and demonstrate. However, the law has some tolerance for juveniles, which has caused them to challenge the bottom line repeatedly.
Teenagers are not mature enough to tell right from wrong. Provoked by radicals and the media, they are more likely to conduct violent and illegal activities.
By resorting to violence, the radicals have made it clear that they are no longer protesting against the extradition bill. Instead, they willingly served as the minions of the internal and external ill-disposed forces, trying to destabilize Hong Kong, disable the local government, and undermine the "one country, two systems" model.
For their own interests, the radical protesters, as well as the behind-the-scenes black hand, have used teenagers as political pawns to cause chaos in Hong Kong.
To stop violence, end chaos and restore order are aspirations widely acknowledged by Hong Kong society.
Representatives from all walks of life in Hong Kong have voiced condemnation of the violent activities and support for the Hong Kong police by issuing statements, advertising and making speeches.
The HKFEW Wong Cho Bau Secondary School kicked off the new semester on Sept. 1 by holding a flag-raising ceremony and playing the national anthem to deepen the students' sense of patriotism.
Those who genuinely care about Hong Kong should resolutely safeguard "one country, two systems" and resolve to stop violence and chaos that undermine Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
Young people need to learn to express their opinions peacefully and rationally instead of being incited to violence and leaving permanent stains on their lives.