Monthly Archives: February 2016

US warplanes strike ISIS camp in Libya, more than 40 reported killed

US warplanes hit an Islamic State camp in the Libyan city of Sabratha early on Friday, according to a US military spokesman. The airstrike killed as many as 40 people.

The mayor of Sabratha, Hussein al-Thwadi, told Reuters that the planes struck at 3:30am local time, hitting a building in the Qasr Talil district, where foreign workers were living. He said 41 people were killed and six others wounded.

Earlier a Western official told the NYT that the strike targeted a senior Tunisian operative linked to terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year. Intelligence officials are working to determine whether Noureddine Chouchane, a major Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) facilitator, was actually killed in the strike.

Chouchane has been linked to two major attacks in Tunisia in 2015 – one which killed 22 people in an assault on the National Bardo Museum, and one that killed 38 people at a beach resort in Sousse.

The BBC reported that British bases are believed to have been involved in the Friday attack.

It comes just days after US President Barack Obama said he has been “clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after Al-Qaeda wherever they appeared.”

“We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind,” he said, adding, “As we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”

Both American and British special operations teams have increased reconnaissance missions to Libya in recent months, aiming to identify IS leaders and their networks for possible strikes.

The head of the foreign news media office in Tripoli, Jamal Naji Zubia, said the strikes targeted a farmhouse about six to nine miles outside Sabratha, which had been seized by IS militants.

“They came individually to the house from different places,” he said, adding that most of those killed were Tunisian. Some officials believe the militants had gathered on Friday to hear a speech by a Muslim religious leader.

The US is launching airstrikes against IS in Syria and Libya, though it does not have a UN Security Council mandate to do so.

The airstrike comes as Libya marks the fifth anniversary of the Western-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, the country has been in political chaos and facing a growing threat from IS, which is looking to capitalize on the lack of stability and infighting among politicians.

Although Washington and its allies maintain they did the right thing by overthrowing the regime, Amnesty International has slammed NATO coalition members, saying they need to be “held to account” for the “horrors that have unfolded in Libya.”

Earlier this week, Libya’s Presidential Council announced the formation of a revised national unity government under a UN-backed plan aimed at ending the country’s conflict.

A list of 13 ministers and five ministers of state has been sent to the country’s eastern parliament for approval.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook confirmed in January that the US is “looking at military options” in relation to Libya, adding that US troops on the ground have been working to “get a better sense of who the players are, who might be worthy of US support.”

“I’m not going to tell you exactly what the disposition of our forces are there,” he said. “I can acknowledge that we’ve had forces on the ground previously as we’ve indicated, to engage in conversations with local forces to get a clearer picture of exactly what’s happening there.

“The reason for the presence of those troops is to, again, get a sense of the forces on the ground, the players on the ground and exactly what’s happening, because it is a muddled picture right now. And we – that is one of the best ways we can get a better sense of what’s happening.”

That statement followed a similar remark by General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’s fair to say that we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya] in conjunction with a legitimate political process,” Dunford said in January. “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”

According to Dunford, the US, France, Italy and the UK are looking at how to curb the growth of IS in Libya before is spreads further across the region. He said it was important to “put a firewall” between IS in Libya and other Islamic extremist groups on the African continent, while working to strengthen African militaries and governments to fight the militants themselves.

“Although I want to move quickly, we’ve got to make sure we do this right,” Dunford said last month.

Despite US troops on the ground in Libya, it was reported in December that when 20 US soldiers were dropped with their vehicles near Watia, Libya, local officers and soldiers “refused their intervention, disarmed them and forced them off Libyan lands.”

Senior US defense officials confirmed to NBC News that the incident had taken place, adding that US forces have been “in and out of Libya” for “some time now” to advise Libyan forces.

According to Dunford, the US, France, Italy and the UK are looking at how to curb the growth of IS in Libya before is spreads further across the region. He said it was important to “put a firewall” between IS in Libya and other Islamic extremist groups on the African continent, while working to strengthen African militaries and governments to fight the militants themselves.

“Although I want to move quickly, we’ve got to make sure we do this right,” Dunford said last month.

Despite US troops on the ground in Libya, it was reported in December that when 20 US soldiers were dropped with their vehicles near Watia, Libya, local officers and soldiers “refused their intervention, disarmed them and forced them off Libyan lands.”

Senior US defense officials confirmed to NBC News that the incident had taken place, adding that US forces have been “in and out of Libya” for “some time now” to advise Libyan forces.

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New Player in the Gulf? What Is the Turkish Base in Qatar All About?

Experts are wondering what’s behind the burgeoning military relationship between Turkey and Qatar following the announcement on the construction of two military bases in each other’s territories. Some suggest that for Turkey, it is a pretext to justify the future deployment of its troops in the Persian Gulf, but what does Qatar get in return?

In his article on the topic Martin Berger, a Czech-based freelance journalist and analyst suggests that for Turkey, it is an “effort to regain the influence that the Ottoman Empire enjoyed in the Middle East.”

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have been using every pretext to justify the future deployment of its troops in the Persian Gulf through the “sincere” desire to intensify “the fight against common threats“, while making Turkey’s military presence in the region official,” he writes in his analytical piece on the New Eastern outlook website.

“By taking this step Turkey expects to become a state that is directly influencing security in the Persian Gulf. In the future, this base will also provide Turkish armed forces with an outpost for operations in the Red Sea, North Africa, along with the access to the waters of the Pacific, which Turkey lost back in 1950,” the author states.

This opinion echoes the one of Mehmet Akif Okur, associate professor at Gazi University, who is also convinced that “the Gulf is important in the global economic-political equation, and Turkey wants to have a say in the Gulf.”

“A close military alliance with Qatar will provide the Turkish Defense Ministry with a tempting opportunity to access a lucrative market. It will also offer Turkey a way to strategically counter Iranian influence in the region and boost Turkey’s role in global security and global energy security,” he told Washington-based website Al Monitor.

Martin Berger however points at another strategic reason for the move.

Qatar and Turkey, he says, are the original creators of Daesh (ISIL/ISIS), and they have been investing heavily in the strengthening of this terrorist organization ever since.

Qatar – by providing financial support to the jihadist group, while Turkey “has spent significant time on the recruitment and training of Daesh militants for them to then wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria”.“Turkey did its best to provide its terrorist creation with sophisticated smuggling networks that allowed ISIL (Daesh) to ship stolen oil and drugs across the globe. The Islamic State repaid their masters with a constant stream of Muslim refugees heading to Europe in a bid to save their lives. After all, Turkey is the first to benefit from the flow of migrants that are supposed to conquer a foothold in new lands, planting the seeds for future victories of a new Ottoman Empire,” he says.

Both countries have been supporting other similar extremist and even terrorist groups used extensively in the fight against the Syrian government.

“Both states have also been deeply involved in the political struggle for influence in Egypt, by sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood organization and former President Mohamed Morsi, along with promoting Wahhabi ideas not only in North Africa and the Middle East, but also in Central Asia,” Berger further says.

The closer cooperation between the two will enable better coordination of their above activities, with Turkish personal presence in the region.What is Qatar Getting in Return?

According to Martin Berger, first of all, Qatar will “greatly enhance its military and political independence from its neighbor – Saudi Arabia, which has been repeatedly trying to distance itself from Qatari policies and even condemned Doha for the financial support it has been providing to radical extremists.”

Moreover, the author suggests, “there’s little doubt that it will untie Doha’s hands in the business of sponsoring radical movements in the Islamic world, which have been labeled by numerous experts as extremist or even terrorist groups. Qatar will be able to train future members of such groups on its military base in Turkey, as well as using Turkish extremists on its territory for the same purposes, raising new radical hordes for military engagements in Syria or other countries.”

According to Mehmet Akif Okur, the agreement is of vital importance to Qatar, which is concerned by increased Iranian influence in the Gulf, the improvement of US-Iran relations and China’s growing role in the Middle East.

“Qatar lacks serious military power and appears determined to make up for its deterrence weakness in the Gulf by entering into a military alliance with Turkey and diversifying its defensive capacities,” he suggests.

“A strong military alliance with Turkey will enable Qatar to enhance its defense industry capacity, improve the training of its army and reduce its military dependence on the United States by diversifying its military partners to counter Iranian influence and perhaps even develop stronger cooperation with NATO via Turkey.”

The Czech expert however predicts a strong counteraction from Qatar’s neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who has not favored the agreement.

“The Arab world seems to be frankly worried by the strengthening of the military cooperation between Turkey and Qatar, since this basically means that radical movements like the Muslim Brotherhood will be getting even more active, equating to greater adversity for a number of regional players,” he says.

“Under these circumstances, taking into account the well-known unpredictability of Erdogan’s behavior, in the near future we may witness the worsening of Turkey’s relations with a number of Arab states and the further destabilization of the region,” the author finally states.

US State Dept. accuses China & Russia of increasing global tensions

A US State Department spokesman has taken a swipe at Beijing and Moscow, saying their militarization is making the world unsafe. John Kirby said this is a view shared by “much of the rest of the international community.”

Spokesperson Kirby for the US Department of State told a press briefing on Thursday that US military expansion into Eastern Europe and the South China Sea is at the behest of its allies, while dismissing that this could be perceived as a threat by Russia and China.

“Our allies and partners, I think, find [it] pretty comforting and reassuring [that there is a] US military presence in the region, which will continue,” Kirby replied when asked about NATO’s move towards the east not being perceived as a threat, or US ships sailing into the South China Sea.

For years, Russia has complained of NATO expansion towards its borders, with the US-led bloc going against its word.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, confirmed that there was a promise not to enlarge NATO, not even “as much as a thumb’s width further to the east.” But this commitment was never formally documented, and since then the alliance has grown drastically, from 16 member states in 1990 to 28 currently.

Likewise, China has grown increasingly annoyed at provocative actions carried out by the US military in the Pacific. In January, the US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands archipelago in the South China Sea – an area which China, among other regional states, claims sovereignty over.

Kirby was challenged by AP’s Matt Lee, who said: “Surely you can understand, yes or no, that from the Chinese perspective, that is also militarization and it raises tensions?”

However, Kirby, who accused Lee of “speaking for the Chinese government,” simply stated that the actions carried out by Washington are “not militarization,” while mentioning it is not a case of “we’re right and you’re wrong” and that the US is keeping its promises to its allies in the region.

“I’m not going to characterize how they’re viewing each and every flight or navy ship that sails through the South China Sea. But you said it’s, ‘You want them to accept your explanation,’” Kirby stated.

“It’s not just the United States’ explanation. It’s the explanation, it’s the view of… much of the rest of the international community about what the prime source of tension is there, and that is the further reclamation of features and the militarization that we’ve seen on many of them,” he added.

While Washington may be appeasing its regional allies such as Vietnam, South Korea and Japan in the South China Sea, Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, told RT that the actions carried out by the US are further turning Chinese public opinion against Washington.

“Whatever China is doing, including the land reclamation…is completely within Chinese sovereign right… I think the more pressure the US wants to put on China, the more re-bounce there will be from China,” Gao mentioned.

“Definitely it is not [viewed] in a positive manner by the Chinese government or by the Chinese people. They tend to interpret what the US is really up to as interference into Chinese domestic affairs…”

Lee also hit back at Kirby, questioning Washington’s logic in sending warships and military planes into areas deemed sensitive by Beijing.

“The fact of the matter is the tensions are rising, and when you sail military ships or put military aircraft in there, it doesn’t reduce the tension. It just makes the tension rise more. And I don’t see why,” Lee said.

Concerning the idea that Russia and China would want to take counter-measures to ensure their national security, such as Moscow deploying its S-400 missile defense system, Kirby squarely put the blame back on Beijing and Moscow, saying: “The point is that militarization of these features does nothing to reduce tensions.”

Dozens of Turkish military vehicles cross Syria border, dig trenches

Turkish military vehicles have crossed into a Kurdistani area in Syria, Afrin, just over the border, a Kurdish news agency reported adding that the troops started to dig a trench near Meidan Ekbis, a town in Aleppo province.

Dozens of Turkish military vehicles advanced 200 meters into the Syrian Kurdish region in Aleppo province on Thursday, ANHA news agency reported.

It added that the troops started digging a trench between the towns of Sorka and Meydan Ekbis. According to the agency the construction of a concrete wall on the Syrian border in the area is ongoing as well.

The agency posted photos of ongoing operations on its website.

The Syrian Afrin district bordering Turkey is predominantly Kurdish with a population estimated to be of more than 170,000 people according to a 2004 census. The area is part of a de facto autonomous region of Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan since 2013.

A Turkish security source told Reuters that they country’s military shelled Kurdish YPG militia positions in northern Syria on Thursday. The source added that the shelling came in response to cross-border fire.

The developments come as Turkey accused forces linked with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia of an explosion in Ankara that killed 28 and injured 61 more. On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to continue the military efforts against Kurdish groups in Syria. The Syrian Kurds, in turn, denied responsibility for the attack and put the blame on Islamic State militants (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Turkey has been stepping up military activity if the areas with a predominantly Kurdish population, which include its own territories in the southeast as well as areas in northern Syria and Iraq.

Turkish military has been intensely shelling Syrian Kurds despite UN Security Council (UNSC) warning on Tuesday which urged Ankara to comply with international law.
The Kurdish region in northern Syria is a stronghold of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its activists, as well as YPG militia. Turkey has claimed that PYD is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is considered to be a terrorist group by Ankara and its ally the US.

Although Turkey views the PYD as merely a Syrian branch of the PKK, the US has backed the Syrian Kurds which have been one of the key forces fighting against the IS in the region. Ankara has been sending diplomatic signals to Washington that it is discontent with Washington’s support of Syrian Kurds.

On the other hand, Washington has been mounting pressure on Ankara to seal its frontiers with Syria. In December, Davutoglu stated that closing the country’s border with Syria is extremely difficult, despite the fact that most of it is “under Islamic State control.” He added that instead Turkey is putting countermeasures in place, which include physical barriers on the entire border.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has recently released images and satellite intelligence proving the illegal oil supplies are being delivered across the Turkish-Syrian border on three main routes leading to Mediterranean ports, Batman oil refinery on the Turkish territory and a large transfer base in Turkey’s Cizre, respectively. Russia claimed that those oil supplies widely benefit Turkish President Recep closest relatives and help funding IS militants in Syria.