Safe Zones? Trump Executive Orders; US Special Forces Raid in Yemen.
President Donald Trump’s new executive orders result in protests and questions about safe zones. A SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen leaves many civilians dead and a crashed MV-22 Osprey. And more in our global war news roundup…
Yemen: SEAL Team 6 Raid on AQAP Headquarters in Central Yemen
_ US special operations forces, SEAL Team 6, launched a counterterrorism raid at dawn in “rural Yakla district” of Bayda (al-Baida) province in Yemen on what BBC calls “an al-Qaeda stronghold.” The operation was planned under Pres. Obama and executed under Pres. Trump.
_ Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) reported that 4 Apache helicopters fired 16 rockets at 3 homes in the village and then the commandos “stormed the location.” AQAP also reported that “fighters shot down American Apache helicopter, killed and wounded its crew.” This has not been confirmed by US officials or other media outlets as of Sunday evening, Jan. 29.
_ A US soldier was killed and 3 were injured during the raid and gun battle that lasted nearly an hour. A senior American official told the New York Times that an MV-22 Osprey was sent in to evacuate the wounded but crash landed nearby and 2 soldiers were injured. CENTCOM said the aircraft was “unable to fly afterward and was ‘intentionally destroyed.'”
_ An al Qaeda (AQ) leader confirmed the attack to AP, called it a massacre, and said 3 al Qaeda leaders were killed. Reuters reported that Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, a senior AQ leader was killed, along with other militants. The target of the raid was a headquarters “deemed valuable enough to warrant a ground operation rather than an airstrike,” a senior American official told the New York Times.
_ Local sources via BBC reported 41 militants and 16 civilians killed, including women and children. Yemeni officials (anonymously) told AP that 2 dozen men were killed, “including some Saudis present at the site.” The casualty numbers from different sources vary from 30 to 57. A Yemeni journalist claimed (on social media, graphic content) that only 2 of the dead were known al Qaeda militants and 27 civilians were killed.
_ There have been multiple reports that US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8-year old daughter was killed during the raid. An updated version of the AP story reported “30 people dead, including women and children,” and among them was “Nora, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki.” Her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki said: “She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours.”
_ Local tribal officials told AP that the US is hunting al Qaeda leader Qassim al-Rimi, and that the commandos captured “at least two unidentified individuals.” An anonymous US military official denied that any prisoners were taken.
_ Last weekend, CENTCOM reported that US military strikes (elsewhere reported to be drone strikes) killed 5 other “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives […] in central Yemen’s Baydah governate.” These were among the first strikes carried out by the new US president.
Iraq: Reaction to Trump Executive Order
_ Muqtada al-Sadr called for the closure of the US embassy in Iraq if the US moves its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Syria: Realignment of Rebel and Jihadi Groups; Tahrir al-Sham Emerges
_ On Friday, Jan. 27, war correspondent Elijah Magnier reported on a document declaring the merger of Syrian rebel groups against Al Qaeda in Syria (al Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham). They shifted from a “We are all Nusra” stance to a “Nusra get out” stance. They were also waging a war on social media. Ahrar has been ideologically aligned with al Nusra, and even as Ahrar was announcing the new alliance against al Nusra, they were also “trying to get Nusra Front forces to agree to mediation to stop the fighting.” Nusra rejected this, and the rejection was considered to be a declaration of war. Al Nusra has also been denouncing rebel groups participating in the Astana talks as conspiring against them.
_ There is some confusion on whether the infighting between Ahrar al-Sham and al Nusra is genuine or whether it is part of another rebranding/reorganization effort to mask the jihadi nature of rebel groups in order to smooth things over for those supporting them. Moon of Alabama explains it in this analysis, but Elijah Magnier believes it will develop into a full on battle between rebels who have decided to merge and perhaps continue negotiating, and al Nusra/al Qaeda who are not included in any ceasefire. Ahrar al-Sham still has issues with fracturing. Magnier also believes that al Qaeda and ISIS could rejoin forces, by necessity.
_ The realignment continued over the weekend and on Saturday, Jan. 28, Al Masdar reported that a new merger of jihadi groups was announced, which includes Al Qaeda in Syria (al Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham). The new group is called “Hey’sah Tahrir Al-Sham” (Levant Liberation Body) and it includes Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, Harakat Nouriddeen Al-Zinki, Liwaa Al-Haq, Liwaa Ansar Al-Deen, and Jaysh Al-Sunnah. Zinki (Zenki) was a CIA-backed rebel group until the end of 2015 and received heavy weapons from the US.
Syria: US Military Base in Hasakah
_ Several news organizations are reporting a new US military base in northeastern Syria in the city of Al-Hasakah, currently controlled by the Syrian Kurds. 800 servicemen have been deployed there. An anonymous Kurdish source told BasNews that “’a large group of the well-equipped US Special Forces’ has recently arrived at the Tel Bidr base, located to the northwest of Hasakah.” Some news organizations reported that the base is controlled by the Kurds, and others disputed it, saying it is a US military base.
Syria: Damascus Water Supply Facilities Under Government Control
_ Syrian forces took control of water facilities for the Damascus water supply from militant rebels after weeks of negotiating and fighting. Damascus’ water supply to more than 5 million residents was in crisis for more than a month after rebel groups seized and poisoned the water supply. Previous deals were sabotaged by al Qaeda groups but appear to be back in place. Buses provided by the government are waiting to evacuate rebels who chose not to lay down weapons.
Syria: Safe Zones?
In an interview with ABC News, Trump said he’d “absolutely do safe zones in Syria.” He said the safe zones are necessary in stemming the flow of refugees to neighboring countries and Europe. An alleged draft of an executive order was posted online as a Scribd document by a Huffington Post political reporter. Defense department officials told Military Times the issue remains “ambiguous” and they don’t know if Trump is talking about refugee camps or no-fly zones or both. Military Times describes the Pentagon as “skeptical” on the subject.
_ Trump spoke with Saudi King Salman by phone and, at Trump’s request, according to a White House statement, agreed to support “safe zones” in Syria and also in Yemen. Reuters refers to “safe zones to protect Syrian refugees.” Trump and Salman also agreed to “strengthening joint efforts to fight the spread of Islamic State militants.”
_ Trump and Salman also spoke about Iran and its “destabilizing regional activities.” This is part of the White House statement:
“They also agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities”
_ Micah Zenko of Council on Foreign Relations poses 15 crucial questions about the “remarkable” but undefined “safe zones” announced by Trump. Zenko calls for “he and his senior aides must clarify exactly what he means by this new, expansive, and poorly conceived military mission.”
_ Justin Raimondo notes that the “safe zones” executive order leaked last week was, in the leaked draft version, part of Trump’s recently issued and controversial “Protecting the Nation From Attacks From Foreign Nationals” executive order. But when it was issued, the safe zones section had been removed. Raimondo believes that safe zones “are off the table” for now and that the Pentagon talked him out of it.
_ Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov responded to the news of the Saudi/US conversation on safe zones by saying that Russia might support new safe zones if the Syrian government agrees to it and if the safe zones are really about helping refugees. Different parties might have very different ideas of what a safe zone is and what it would be used for. Lavrov opposes this kind of safe zone:”There have been ideas of creating some areas where an alternative Syrian government could sit, and use those areas for regime change.”
Syria: Syrian Opposition Groups go to Moscow; New Draft Constitution
_ Russian foreign minister Lavrov held a meeting in Moscow with Syrian opposition groups, several days after the Astana talks ended. Lavrov said he was glad that the Astana talks got the UN moving again on Syria peace talks in Geneva, and also noted that the UN has postponed their announced Feb. 8 talks til the end of February. He then scolded the Riyadh Group (High Negotiating Committee) for bailing out of Friday’s talks in Moscow, and denounced the UN’s negligence. Among other things, Lavrov said:
Lavrov: “We believe that the passivity of our UN colleagues, who have not held any rounds of the talks since April 2016, is unacceptable. If they continue to look up at the fractious position from the so-called Riyadh Group, the settlement in Syria will be postponed to eternity.”
_ A new Syrian constitution is under construction. Russia says that they took input from the government and the opposition and came up with a working draft. Russian media RT published a leaked copy of the draft constitution which included: “territorial integrity of the country, separation of political powers, and respect for minority rights as well as international treaties.” The word “Arab” might be removed from the country’s name. “Pre-war Syria had a 74 percent majority Arab population; nine percent were Kurds and there were about 100,000 Turkmen.”
Draft Executive Order on Black Sites
_ Charlie Savage at NYT “Trump Poised to Lift Ban on C.I.A. ‘Black Site’ Prisons.” A draft copy of the executive order on torture / CIA black sites is: here.
US: Trump Lets Political Appointees at State Department Go
_ Four State Department senior leaders at the State Department resigned last week. Shadowproof’s Dan Wright notes that:
“Also among those not asked to return to service was highly controversial Assistant Secretary for Europe Victoria Nuland, who seemed to work tirelessly to damage US relations with Russia. Nuland openly supported a coup in Ukraine, handing out bread to protesters, as well as working behind the scenes to form the post-coup government.“
_ State Dept. veteran Peter Van Buren sets the record straight after some sensational, and from his experience, inaccurate reporting on the subject. What happened at the State Dept. is the norm when a new president takes office, and there is a deep bench, not a vacuum or any kind of crisis. If the political appointees were career diplomats, they get reassigned to different jobs or retire.
US: Trump Issues Executive Order Limiting Visas and Entry to the United States
_ On Friday, Jan. 27, Trump issued an executive order that “suspends visa entry into the U.S. from seven countries,” Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The order also creates an “extreme vetting” process “for any and all immigrants and visitors to the U.S.” Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose.
_ The White House describes it as “an executive order protecting the United States from foreign nationals entering from countries compromised by terrorism, and ensuring a more rigorous vetting process.” The order puts a “120-day hold on Friday on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.” Trump’s chief of staff said that Saudi Arabia and Egypt may be added to that list.
_ Activists, the press, and social media labeled the action a #MuslimBan and travelers in transit, green card holders, dual citizens and others were unsure whether they would be affected. Some people “lost their status” while enroute and were detained at airports. Others were denied boarding on planes bound for the US.
_ Thousands of protesters gathered at airports in major cities across the country chanting, among other thing, “Let them in!” Protests continued the next day and included the White House and Copley Square in Boston. Opposition party politicians showed up at the protests, made passionate speeches, and devoured the political manna. Some Republican party politicians spoke out against it. Lawyers rushed to airports to assist those detained and their families and other lawyers filed cases in the courts. State attorneys general from the Democratic party in more than a dozen states condemned the order and are considering challenging the Trump administration in court.
_ In addition to questionable legality and constitutionality, the people charged with carrying out the order were clearly unprepared, showing that the order was hastily and badly implemented. Multi-faceted and major fail by the Trump administration. And the legal framework and fearmongering for this has been built, with relatively little public protest, over the past 15 years. The past 2 presidents essentially made it easy for Trump to do what he did.
_ “Foreign service officers and other diplomats” are planning to issue a dissent memo, according to Lawfare blog, who reportedly have a draft copy. It is not yet known who or how many will sign it.
Canada: Shooting at Mosque in Quebec City
_ There were multiple deaths and injuries after “gunmen opened fire in during evening prayers” at the mosque in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City on Sunday evening (Jan. 29), according to The Globe & Mail. Canadian public broadcasting (CBC) reported that 2 suspects were arrested soon after the shooting. An anonymous source told Radio Canada that there were 2 men “wearing ski masks who burst into the building and opened fire.” The Toronto Star said 1 was arrested at the scene and another fled, but police said both were in custody. Update: These were early reports and the story has changed considerably.
_ Update via Globe and Mail: On Monday, police said there was 1 shooter and he is in custody. The second man is now considered as a witness. The suspected shooter is a 20-year old student from Quebec City. Six people have died and another five are in critical condition.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada“
US: The “Great Rebuilding” of the Military
_ On Jan. 27, Trump also issued an executive order that would lead to a “great rebuilding” of the military. The order includes “developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform.” The US military budget was roughly doubled after 9/11 and has stayed at that level. Trump said “our military strength will be questioned by no one, but neither will our dedication to peace. And we do want peace.”
UK: British Prime Minister Meets With Trump
_ During a press conference on the state visit from British Prime Minister Theresa May, Pres. Trump said “very early to be talking about” lifting sanctions on Russia. Theresa May said: “We believe the sanctions should continue until we see the Minsk agreement fully implemented.” The Minsk agreement implementation is currently gridlocked because the Ukraine government has not implemented its mandates.
_ One of Theresa May’s first comments was an expression of thanks for the invitation so soon after his inauguration and the “special relationship” featured prominently in the press conference. This relationship “is particularly important for May as she steers Britain out of the European Union.” Trump said he thinks that Brexit will be great for the UK.
_ Theresa May said the UK and US would step up their battle against ISIS in cyberspace, to defeat the ideology behind it, with no specifics on how an ideology can be defeated via cyber warfare.
_ The first question during the press conference from Steve Holland asked about Trump’s plans to speak with Russian Pres. Putin on Saturday, the following day. Trump said he doesn’t know Putin, he hopes that the US and Russia have a great relationship but it might not, and if the US and Russia work together to fight ISIS, that would be a good thing.
Russia: Kaspersky Manager & FSB Officer Charged With Treason
_ Kaspersky “manager in charge of investigating hacking attacks at Russia’s biggest cybersecurity firm” was arrested for treason, along with a senior Russian FSB intelligence officer https://apnews.com/bb34c786f7984407898da815090fa471/Top-manager-at-Russian-cybersecurity-firm-arrested-in-Moscow
Russia: Gorbachev Warns of Nuclear War
_ Time Magazine online: “Mikhail Gorbachev: ‘It All Looks As If the World Is Preparing for War‘” Gorbachev says we must break out of the “vicious circle” where we are marching toward big wars and “none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war.” Trump and Putin are called upon to pass a UN Security Council resolution stating that “nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.” He also notes that money can always be found for sophisticated, expensive weapons but not for basic, social needs and millions of people live in fear due to militarism, which makes them less free, since as FDR believed, “one of the main freedoms is freedom from fear.”
_ Morocco submitted a bid to rejoin the African Union last year and on Jan. 30, the bid was accepted. The union’s president said: “Morocco is now a full member of the African Union. There was a very long debate but 39 of our 54 states approved the return of Morocco, even if the Western Sahara question remains.” Morocco withdrew from the African Union’s predecessor organization, the Organisation of African Unity, 33 years ago.
Philippines: Defense Agreement With US “Intact”
_ The 2014 “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) between the US and the Philippines is “intact,” according to their defense minister, despite Pres. Duterte’s threats to scrap it and his warming relationship with China and Russia, and his hostility toward the US, a former colonial power. The US military will upgrade bases and build new facilities. The “EDCA allows the expansion of rotational deployment of U.S. ships, aircraft and troops at five bases in the Philippines as well as the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security operations.” Sen. John McCain just proposed $7.5 billion in military funding for the US military and Asia-Pacific allies.
PODCASTS, INTERVIEWS, BOOKS, FILMS
_ Scott Horton did a very frank interview with freelance journalist Kelley Vlahos, where they discuss “the unusual number of recently-retired generals in Donald Trump’s administration and whether security and foreign policy will be negatively effected as a result,” and Trump’s “shift to the right on Israel.”
_ Tulsi Gabbard did a short interview with Jake Tapper on CNN about her trip to Syria and meeting with Bashar al-Assad.
_ Abby Martin, on The Empire Files, interviewed Mark Ames, who spent a decade reporting in Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin’s Russia (and was shut down by Putin). They talk about the Post-Soviet Russia that the USA made.
“The hidden story of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency explains how deeply the US government, along with Western capitalist institutions, cheered, shaped and exploited the country after the fall of the Soviet Union, paving the way for the political system they all condemn today.”
_ Jeremy Scahill interviewed the legendary reporter, Sy Hersh, who said, in so many words, that the real story about the Russian hacks and the dodgy dossier is that it’s a bullshit story and the mainstream media swallowed it whole. Hersh also urged Scahill to wait and see for awhile on Trump, but Scahill strongly disagreed. Around 33:00 Sy Hersh said Trump is “obviously going to remake the CIA.” and with respect to the alleged Russian hack, he said “there is a much simpler explanation for what happened,” It appears that Hersh is working on something on this subject right now.
ANALYSIS & OPINION
_ David Mizner at Rogue Nation: “Syria, Propaganda & Anti-Imperialism 101.”
_ Journalist and Marine veteran, Brad Hoff takes chickenhawks to task for their attacks on Iraq war veteran and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard for her trip to Syria: “Chickenhawks out in force against Iraq War vet Tulsi Gabbard.”