US House condemn Trump over Syria, Pence in Turkey

MSN: House condemns Trump’s Syria withdrawal

In a stinging bipartisan rebuke, the House on Wednesday condemned President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Voting 354 to 60, lawmakers approved a non-binding resolution opposing the move, which set the stage for Turkey’s military assault against Kurdish forces in Syria that the U.S. partnered with to beat back Islamic State terrorists.

“What kind of message does this send to the world? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners?” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) asked on the House floor. “Congress must speak out against this disgrace.”

The top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he understood Trump’s “legitimate concerns” about committing troops overseas, but said the president’s Syria pullout had damaged U.S. interests in the region.

“I, too, want to wind down our overseas conflicts and bring our troops home,” McCaul said. “But leaving [northeast] Syria now does not resolve the problem that brought us there in the first place. It only creates more.”

“We need a residual force in place,” he added. “The consequences of this decision have already unfolded before our very eyes.”

The resolution is non-binding and doesn’t condemn Trump by name. It calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to halt Turkey’s military campaign in Syria and urges humanitarian support to displaced Syrian Kurds and calls on the U.S. to ensure Turkey “acts with restraint and respects existing agreements related to Syria.”

The resolution also urges the Trump administration to outline “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Reuters: Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will urge Turkey on Thursday to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, a day after President Donald Trump threatened heavy sanctions over the operation.

Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump defended his move on Wednesday and called it “strategically brilliant”.

Trump is one of very few who have praised how he has handled this.

Pence will meet Erdogan around 1130 GMT, while Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts. A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey’s position.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a “successful meeting”, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise. Kalin said that Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.

Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists.

Trump’s decision to withhold protection from Syrian Kurds upended five years of U.S. policy.

It has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale. In a rare criticism of Turkish policy on Syria, Moscow said Turkish troops had the right to temporarily go up to a maximum of 10 km into Syria, under a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.

Syrian troops, accompanied by Russian forces, have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.

The White House tried to talk tough (-ish):

The White House, fighting the domestic political damage and perhaps trying to demonstrate the president’s efforts to stop the offensive, released a Trump letter to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!”

But Erdogan is acting unmoved.

Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk, quoting sources, said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict, saying the letter was “thrown in the trash”.

Think: Trump’s letter to Turkey’s Erdogan shows the U.S. is struggling to keep up with Ankara

President Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him not to go after an enemy Kurdish military group in neighboring Syria as U.S. troops depart the war-torn country, indicates that the U.S. president wants to corner his Turkish counterpart. But Erdogan, who has run Turkey for nearly two decades, may well be smarter than to let himself be trapped.

So far, the Turkish president shows no sign of stopping his relentless advance despite the threat of American sanctions Trump delivered in his missive, made public Wednesday but penned last week. Erdogan has calculated that even if the sanctions come, they won’t be sufficient to disrupt the Turkish military strategy; he figures that what Trump wants most is to bring U.S. troops home, and he won’t do much more to prevent the offensive against the Kurds.

The BBC is just reporting: Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, US says

Turkey agrees to pause operation in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw – US Vice-President Mike Pence

Turkey launches attack on Kurds in Syria

In a surprise and widely criticised move President Donald Trump announced that US troops were being withdrawn from Syria. This was seen as a green light to Turkey to go in and attack the Kurds, who were US allies.

Turkey has announced they have launched attacks on the Kurds.

Fox News: ‘Huge panic’ as Turkish warplanes bomb Kurdish civilian targets in Syria after US withdrawal: report

President Trump is calling Turkey’s ongoing military assault in Syria a “bad idea” Wednesday as reports are emerging of civilians being caught in the crossfire of a long-standing feud between Ankara and Kurdish forces.

Many said his sudden withdrawal of US troops was a bad idea which was predicted to result in what is happening now.

His comments come hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring — a mission that will “neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.”

Trump has been heavily criticized throughout the week following his decision Sunday to pull American troops out of northern Syria, leaving the Kurdish forces — who have been longtime U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria — in peril. Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish forces as terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

“There are no American soldiers in the area,” he added.

No US troops, just ex-allies of the US that Trump suddenly abandoned.

A spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces says Turkish warplanes on Wednesday have “started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas,” causing a “huge panic among people of the region.”

The Kurds requested air support from American forces in response to the strikes. But U.S. military officials tell Fox News that Trump has ordered them to not get involved.

Fox News: Lindsey Graham warns Trump on Syria troop withdrawal: ‘It’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency’

If President Trump follows through on his proposed troop withdrawal from Syria, it would be one of the biggest follies of his presidency and cause ISIS to reemerge in the region, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends.”

Trump tweeted about the issue on Wednesday and said the United States should never have been in the Middle East in the first place. He also put the onus on Turkey to stabilize the region and take up arms against any remaining ISIS elements.

“That’s a pre-9/11 mentality that the Middle East is no concern to us,” Graham told Fox News. “I hope President Trump’s right. I hope we can turn the fight against ISIS over to Turkey. I hope that Turkey, when they go into Syria, they won’t slaughter the Kurds… If [Trump] follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”

He claimed that if Trump doesn’t continue with safe zone border patrols, ISIS will fill the void and the fault will lie squarely with the Trump administration.

“I hope that Turkey, when they go into Syria, they won’t slaughter the Kurds…” seems to have been a forlorn hope.

Turkey, Syria, Kurds and Trump threats

The complicated political situation in Syrian is far from over, with Turkey wanting to keep Syrian Kurds away from their border, Trump allowing them to make a move into Syria but warning them not to go too far.

Reuters – U.S. expects Turkey to take over IS fighters if Kurdish militia forced to withdraw: official

The United States expects Turkey to take responsibility of captive Islamic State fighters, a senior State Department official said on Monday, if Ankara’s planned incursion into northeast Syria seizes areas where the detained militants are held.

The official said as of now, U.S. allied Kurdish militia was still going to be in control of the detention facilities. “If they (Turks) come into an area with obvious prisons and the SDF withdraws from those security positions around those prisons, we expect the Turks to take them over,” he said in a briefing.

That sounds a bit vague, and is a mixed signal given a threat from Trump.

Fox News; Trump pulls back troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkish assault, Pentagon officials ‘blindsided’

The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey will soon move forward with a planned military operation in northeast Syria, as U.S. troops who have been deployed and operating with Kurdish-led forces in the area began pulling back from their positions.

The decision sent shockwaves through the region and Washington, with U.S. officials telling Fox News that top Pentagon officials were “completely blindsided” and “shocked” by the order to pull back hundreds of U.S. troops, a move that effectively green-lights the Turkey operation. President Trump spoke with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by telephone.

Some officials see the move as a betrayal of the Kurds, whom the U.S. supported against ISIS for years.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called it an “impulsive decision” by Trump that would undo U.S. gains in the region and give ISIS fighters a “second lease on life.”

Reuters: Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan

President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far even though the U.S. leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to carry out an incursion against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating next door in Turkey.

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.

But:

Trump said he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off-limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull out U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.

Trump’s stern words seemed to be an attempt to placate critics, even from within his own Republican Party, who complain he was abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces.

Trump tweeted:

This doesn’t seem too be a great or wise approach by the vain Trump. Under pressure with a possible impeachment hovering over him in Washington, Trump has been increasingly agitated and shrill, even by his standards.

He sounds to me like an increasingly unhinged megalomaniac, with emphasis on the maniac (or at least manic).

That was before Trump’s threat tweet.

Fox News: Turkey’s Syria incursion may allow ISIS to attempt mass prison break amid US withdrawal, Kurdish fighters warn

ISIS fighters and other terrorists comprising the more than 10,000 Islamic militants jailed in northeast Syria could launch a mass prison break as U.S. troops withdraw from the region in response to Turkey’s impending incursion, Syrian Kurdish fighters warned Monday.

Reuters Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more

A looming Turkish incursion into northern Syria is set to reshape the map of the Syrian conflict once again, dealing a blow to Kurdish-led forces that have battled Islamic State while widening Turkey’s territorial control at the border.

This would be Turkey’s third such incursion since 2016. Motivated largely by the aim of containing Syrian Kurdish power, Turkey already has troops on the ground across an arc of northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of anti-Damascus rebels.

Turkey has two main goals in northeast Syria: to drive the Kurdish YPG militia which it deems a security threat away from its border, and to create a space inside Syria where 2 million Syria refugees currently hosted in Turkey can be settled.

It had been pushing the United States to jointly establish a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into Syrian territory, but repeatedly warned it could take unilateral military action after accusing Washington of dragging its feet.

President Tayyip Erdogan has recently talked about pushing even deeper into Syria, beyond the proposed “safe zone” region to the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, in order to allow still more refugees to return to Syria.

HOW WILL THE KURDS BE AFFECTED?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have spent years expanding its control across northern and eastern Syria, helped by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

A rare case of a winner in the Syrian war, the Kurds and their allies have set up their own governing bodies while always insisting their aim is autonomy, not independence.

All of this could unravel in the event of a major Turkish invasion that would plunge the area into warfare. The SDF-affiliated Syrian Democratic Council said an attack would trigger a new wave of mass displacement.

DO RUSSIA AND IRAN BACK TURKEY’S MOVE?

Russia and Iran, the other two major foreign powers in Syria, strongly support President Bashar al-Assad – unlike Turkey and the United States which both called for him to stand down and supported rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Russia has said that Turkey has the right to defend itself, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved and that all foreign military forces “with illegal presence” should leave Syria.

So the situation remains quite complex, and not helped with the apparent impetuousness and unpredictability of Trump .

 

 

Trump recognises Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights

Sovereign over the Golan Heights has been a contentious issue in the Middle East since Israel captured two thirds of the area from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, and effectively annexed in 1981.

Donald Trump has earned praise from the embattled President Netanyahu by recognising Israeli sovereignty, the only country to do so, but could stir up tensions again in the Middle East.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel.

From 2012 to 2018, the eastern Golan Heights became a scene of repeated battles between the Syrian Arab Army, rebel factions of the Syrian opposition including the moderate Southern Front, jihadist al-Nusra Front, and ISIL-affiliated factions. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.

Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory in 1981.

his move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golan_Heights

Washington Examiner – Trump: Time for US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

The announcement comes just weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facingpotential criminal corruption charges, is up for re-election. Netanyahu, who has leaned heavily on Trump’s support, praised the announcement Thursday.

Speaking beside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for recognizing the region.

“President Trump has just made history. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy here, then he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions, but now he did something of equal historic importance.”

Haaretz: Trump Signs Order Recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

In a joint press conference, Trump said: “We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv,” adding: “Our relationship is powerful.” Trump then said: “We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism.”

Netanyahu said he brought Trump a “box of the finest wine from the Golan Heights.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the proclamation, calling Trump “a true friends of the State of Israel.” Opposition head Shelly Yacimovich, as well as Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, also commended the move.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria on Monday, in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Netanyahu said, “We feel that it’s a Purim miracle, President Trump made history today.” According to Netanyahu, “Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights at a time when Iran is trying to use it as a platform to destroy Israel.”

The move by Trump caused an instant international uproar of protests: under international law, the Golan Heights are considered to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel, like East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel captured the Golan Heights, which is populated by around 25.000 Druze, in 1967 and de facto annexed the territory in a 1981 law.

After the Trump tweet, a European Union spokesperson in Israel told Haaretz the EU will not change its position regarding the Golan Heights in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration. Representatives of Russia, Turkey, multiple actors in the Arab world including Palestinians and Syrians also condemned the move.

Washington Examiner – Netanyahu to Trump: ‘Israel has never had a better friend than you’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Trump on Monday that “Israel has never had a better friend than you”.

“Mr. President, over the years Israel has been blessed to have many friends who have sat in the Oval Office. But Israel has never had a better friend than you. You have showed this time and again,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, thanking Trump, said of the formerly Syrian Golan Heights: “We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

Al Jazeera: Why Trump recognised Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights

While the US decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is primarily being explained away with geopolitics, it, in fact, has much more to do with US domestic politics. With this move, President Donald Trump aims to cement the gradual shift in partisan support of Israel from the Democrats to the Republicans and rally evangelical Christians around his presidency.

He chose to sign the Golan Heights sovereignty decree on March 25 as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Israel lobby group in the United States, was holding its annual conference in Washington. This year, the event took place against the backdrop of Democratic House Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments criticising the lobby and the decision of a number of Democratic presidential candidates to boycott it.

Trump and members of his administration took the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, with Vice President Mike Pence rebuking the Democratic party for being “afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America”.

A few days earlier, Trump was even more explicit: “I don’t know what happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they are anti-Jewish.”

The White House is purposefully feeding a narrative that the Democrats’ commitment to Israel is wavering and that there are growing signs of what one former Trump campaign aide has called “Jexodus” – the supposed exodus of American Jews from the Democratic camp, which they have traditionally supported, to the Republican one.

There has always been a complex political symmetry between Israeli and US politics. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never got along with two liberal US presidents; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. However, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.

The current collusion between right-wing leaders in both the US and Israel is unprecedented and is marginalising the left in both countries and pushing back against what they perceive as liberal institutions, most notably the media and the judiciary branch. Trump hopes to use this alliance to engineer a sway to the right in US politics, similar to the one in Israel.

While political decisions favouring Israel are certainly boosting Trump’s and Netanyahu’s chances of re-election, they are conflicting with other US objectives in the Middle East. Pompeo’s March 22 visit to Beirut, for example, was eclipsed by Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights, which undermined his call on local political forces to deter Hezbollah.

The Trump-Netanyahu alliance is putting Arab allies of Washington in a difficult position, as unconditional US “gifts” to Israel are increasingly antagonising the Arab public. These policy distractions undertaken by the Trump administration are undermining the US’s attempt to deter Iran and are in many ways helping Tehran’s anti-US narrative.

The growing alliance between the US evangelicals and the Israeli right is polarising US and Middle East politics and, while it may secure short-term electoral gains for Trump and Netanyahu, in the long term, it may prove disastrous.

Dina Badie (Channel NewsAsia):  Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory matters

Trump is popular in Israel, particularly after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently using the American president’s photos in his re-election campaign posters to take advantage of this.

In fact, some analysts and reporters have suggested that the timing of this announcement was politically calculated to bolster Netanyahu’s campaign in the upcoming Israeli elections on Apr 9.

So claims that both Trump and Netanyahu see election advantages foe themselves over the move by Trump.

I expect that the decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will run into the same difficulties that afflicted the Trump administration’s change in policy with regards to Jerusalem for two reasons.

First, it reverses decades of consistent US policy that demanded any territorial recognition come as a result of direct negotiations, rather than unilateral declarations.

Second, it runs counter to international law, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over territories occupied during the 1967 War.

To be sure, Trump’s move is a symbolic, rather than legal, gesture. But given the dimensions of America’s global influence, US recognition could lend some legitimacy to Israel’s controversial annexation policy.

And I believe Trump’s approach to contentious issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict will further undermine the US government’s claim to be an honest broker. In my view, it makes peace in the Middle East less likely.

And claims that there could be flow on effects of this move by Trump.

Heather Timmons (Quartz): Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Russia’s neighbors may also be affected. Russia has already called outUS “hypocrisy” over sanctions related to the Russian annexation of Crimea, notes Stacie Goddard, a professor of political science at Wellesley College.

“In the short run, this is most likely to bolster Russia’s confidence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the breakaway territories that were once part of Georgia, but now supported by Russian military.

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.”

Stephen Blank (The Hill): Trump’s Golan Heights announcement will backfire for Netanyahu — and US

While the military situation in the Golan has not changed, Trump’s decision fundamentally alters the political context there. Rather than enhancing Israeli security this decision actually diminishes it. Trump’s statements have made it impossible for any future Syrian government, not only Bashear Assad’s regime, to make peace with Israel. No Syrian regime of any stripe will accept Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights leading to Damascus.

Moreover, Israeli annexation of the Golan furnishes an ideal and enduring pretext for Iran, and its client forces like Hezbollah, to stay in Syria to defend against the “Israeli threat.”

Thus, Iranian forces and terrorists associated with them will not only stay in Syria and threaten Israeli forces and civilians in the Golan and Israel proper, their belief in their cause and their recruitment will grow, causing major new security challenges and costs to Israel.

Likewise, it also furnishes an outstanding pretext for Moscow to strengthen its military bases in Syria. That also challenges U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean. This will make Moscow even more resolute about trying to undermine U.S. policy across the entire Middle East and Africa as it is now doing with visible success.

Clearly, the U.S. has no viable strategy for building peace in the Middle East or for confronting the Palestinian or Iranian challengers to peace.

Nothing is simple in the Middle East. I think it’s difficult to predict what effect Trump’s recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights will have, but it is unlikely to improve peace prospects.

Blatantly intervening in Israel’s politics ahead of an election, we have undercut our argument to everyone else that Russia (and implicitly China) must be countered because they interfere in our and our allies’ domestic politics. Here again, we have sacrificed principle for expediency and given our opponents the means to stigmatize our policy as being hypocritical.

Like Russia, the US is guilty of trying to influence and interfere in elections around the world for a long time.

Cynical politics rules.

What Mark Taylor could be prosecuted for

If Mark Taylor manages to get from captivity in Syria to Turkey, and then back to New Zealand – the Government nor anyone else seems to be rushing to help him come back here – he is likely to be taken into custody pending prosecutions. What he might face is yet to be determined, but there’s a variety of possibilities.

Stuff – Mark Taylor: The potential legal case facing the ‘Kiwi jihadi’ if he makes it home to New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said “Kiwi jihadi” Mark Taylor would face the full force of the law if he returned to New Zealand, so what would that look like?

Ardern made clear “it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Taylor has done”, so there would certainly be legal consequences.

Is it Ardern’s call to make? Prime Ministers wouldn’t usually get involved in prosecutions, politicians are supposed to get a separation between them and the administration of the law.

If Taylor manages to make his own way to consular assistance – the closest available is in Turkey – and return to New Zealand it’s likely he will be picked up at the airport by authorities and brought to prison awaiting criminal prosecution.

That seems like a given. It would be alarming if this didn’t happen.

In 2015, police took “further security measures” after Taylor posted a YouTube video urging Islamic State followers in New Zealand to launch attacks on Anzac Day.

This week police told Stuff if a New Zealand citizen suspected of associating with a terrorist group were to return, they would be investigated under New Zealand law.

Police were working closely with domestic and international partners as part of its efforts to ensure the safety and security of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

“The circumstances of these individuals is highly complex and any investigation or possible judicial proceedings would be considered on a case by case basis. Police does not discuss matters regarding specific individuals.”

So what is Ardern giving her opinion for then?

Legal experts say Taylor’s social media and video postings would like see him charged under the Crimes Act, Terrorism Suppression Act and possibly the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act.

He would be refused bail but would avail the rights offered to every citizen in the criminal justice system and his case would likely be long and drawn out through the courts.

The prosecution would not necessarily be a slam dunk with much of the case dependent on proof.

It’s normal for just about any legal case to depend on proof.

Dr Bill Hodge from the University of Auckland law faculty…

“As I understand it, he wasn’t shooting but acting on guard duty but that in itself is routine military exercise. Even if he wasn’t shooting or beheading, he was enabling others to do those things.”

“I think he’d be faced with a maximum possible sentence of 14 years, on the outer limits.”

That must surely depend on what he is charge with.

Professor Alberto Costi​ from Victoria University, who specialises in armed conflicts and international criminal law, said it was not clear what Taylor really done but he had boasted about what he was involved in.

There were provisions in the Crimes Act for threatening to kill as well as the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity.

John Ip, senior law lecturer at the University of Auckland, said Taylor could be charged with several crimes.

War crimes were a possibility.

He cites a case from Sweden, where a former rebel was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes – more specifically, involvement in the execution of captured Syrian government soldiers.

However, it’s more likely Taylor would face prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act. It states any person who even joins a designated terrorist organisation, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for up to 14 years.

That’s where the 14 year maximum comes from, but that’s just one possible charge.

Another possibility under the same act, was to commit a terrorist act, punishable by up to life imprisonment, he says.

Ip and other legal experts agree, the most likely offence would likely be section 13 of the act; participating in a terrorist group, which would not require proof of specific wrongful conduct such as executing prisoners and killing civilians. The law describes the participation in a designated terrorist entity.

But Ip says there is no guiding case law on what terms like “participation” mean.

“The sections have never been used and sitting moribund since the aborted prosecution in relation to the Operation Eight raids in 2007.”

Whatever Taylor ends up being charged with it would be a test case and is likely to be challenging to both prosecute and defend.

Would it go before a jury? It could be hard to find 12 people in new Zealand who don’t think he’s an idiot who deserves to have the legal book thrown at him.

It’s possible that with untested law he gets off on a technicality.

Another possibility is some sort of charge and plea agreement. Taylor has already claimed or admitted quite a bit. He might find it simpler and less risky to cooperate and accept a moderate sentence.

Problems for Mark Taylor, and for New Zealand if he gets here

Mark Taylor created major problems for himself by joining ISIS in the war in Syria.

After finding life with ISIS ‘unbearable’ (they are largely defeated) Taylor handed himself over to Kurds in Syria, probably one of his safer options. But his problems don’t end there.

Somehow Taylor needs to cross from the Kurds into Turkey (who oppose the Kurds), get to the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara, get an emergency passport (even if he hasn’t destroyed his passport as claimed it will have expired), and pay for plane tickets back to New Zealand. He may not have much money, nor an easy way of getting any.

If Taylor does manage to get back he enters a situation with more problems.

Going by comments here and elsewhere he may just about enter a lynch mob mentality. He is likely to be arrested and held in custody, and that may be for his own safety. But he may need to be protected in prison too.

Unlike some (it seems many in Taylor’s case) I oppose capital punishment, but I expect he will be charged appropriately, and if his own claims about what he has done are true he should be sentenced to far more than the couple of years in prison he said he was expecting or hoping for. It looks to me like he has earned something like a life sentence with a long mandatory non-parole period.

If he has to spend that in isolation for his own protection then he only has himself to blame. Going to fight for ISIS is one of the more reprehensible things anyone could have done. He is lucky not to have been killed by opponents in Syria, and also by others in ISIS.

If he is lucky enough to get back safely to New Zealand I hope we are lucky enough to be fully protected from him.

‘Kiwi Jihadi’ fled ‘unbearable life’ with ISIS

New Zealand has it’s own problem with what to do about someone who got involved with ISIS in Syria. In the first instance, apparently nothing, although Mark Taylor is a New Zealand citizen so we may end up being stuck with him.

RNZ: ‘Kiwi Jihadi’ in Syria will have to find his own way out – Ardern

Nicknamed the ‘Kiwi Jihadi’, Mark Taylor told the ABC he fled the Islamic State group in December and surrendered to Kurdish forces because life had become unbearable.

In 2009, he was arrested in Pakistan for trying to gain access to Al Qaeda.

In 2010, he was deported by ASIO after he was assessed as being a security risk. Taylor had lived in Australia on and off for 25 years.

In 2015, the US government declared Taylor a global terrorist after he encouraged attacks in Australia and New Zealand and appeared in an IS propaganda video.

Taylor said he would be surprised if New Zealand did not take him back.

“If they do take me back, most probably I’ll be spending a couple of years in jail,” he said.

Is that optimism? I don’t know what he could be charged with if he comes back to New Zealand.

And he had an apology, of sorts, for his home country.

“I’m sorry for causing too much trouble and being a bit hot-headed and flamboyant in my approach… I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Joining and fighting with a  group with a despicable war and human rights record is a bit more than “a bit hot-headed and flamboyant”.

Ms Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little would not be drawn on the specifics of the case at a post-cabinet press conference today but said they had warned New Zealanders of the risks.

“New Zealand has made it very clear from the outset that New Zealanders should not travel to Syria. Further, it is clear that it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Mark Taylor has done.”

His actions in joining IS and travelling to Syria to fight for them has created potential for legal ramifications in New Zealand, she said.

“As with any New Zealand citizen overseas, if they wish to return to New Zealand then a journey specific emergency travel document can be issued under Section 23 of the Passports Act 1992.”

The absence of New Zealand diplomatic representation in Syria meant the ability of the government to assist any citizens there was “severely limited”, Ms Ardern said.

She said Taylor would probably have to travel to Turkey to get the documents he needed.

“We have consistently told Mark Taylor that we cannot help him obtain a travel document, he would need to make his own way to a country where New Zealand has consular representation, something that in his current situation will be difficult to do.”

Taylor only had a New Zealand citizenship and the government had an obligation not to make people stateless, she said.

More from RNZ:  Call for NZ to take ‘Kiwi jihadi’ Mark Taylor likely

New Zealand can shortly expect demands from Kurdish officials to take the imprisoned Kiwi IS fighter, Mark Taylor, off their hands.

Mr Taylor was arrested in December, and told the ABC’s Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey he had turned himself over to Kurdish forces when he realised life under Islamic State wasn’t what he had anticipated it would be.

He said his life had become unbearable, with no food or money, and that basic services had collapsed.

Life has been unbearable for many people as a result of what ISIS has done, and that he has been a part of – inluding encouraging attacks on New Zealand.

Mr Harvey told Morning Report that Kurdish authorities wanted nothing to do with the western fighters now scarpering from the terrorist group – and that includes Mr Taylor.

“They’ve expressed to us their desire, that that’s what needs to happen with these foreign fighters and the IS families, the people in the camps,” he said.

Mr Harvey said Mr Taylor also told him he had spoken with New Zealand representatives since his arrest in December.

“He said shortly after his arrest he was spoken to by New Zealand intelligence officials on the ground here.”

“I have no idea when a formal request will be made. We’ll be speaking with the Foreign Minister of Kurdistan in a couple of days so we might get some more information then.

“But I think it’s safe to say that they want Mark Taylor out of here as soon as possible. He’s just a burden to them.”

He’s likely to be a burden to New Zealand if he ends up here, but we may have no choice.

 

US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.

Citizenship confusion for ISIS bride in Syria

Shamima Begum left London as a 15 year old in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria. She was recently found in a refugee camp in Syria after (reportedly) leaving the last stronghold of ISIS. She wants to return to the UK, but her citizenship may determine where she can go – if her citizenship can be determined.

She claims she has only UK citizenship.

BBC – Shamima Begum case: I have one citizenship, says IS bride

Shamima Begum – the teenager who fled London to join Islamic State – has said she only has “one citizenship” and it was wrong for the UK to revoke it without speaking to her first.

The 19-year-old told BBC News she had hoped the UK would understand she made a “very big mistake” by joining IS.

She gave birth to a son at the weekend and now wants to return home.

It is only possible to strip someone of their UK nationality if they are eligible for citizenship elsewhere.

It is thought Ms Begum has Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother. But the Bangladesh foreign ministry said the matter had nothing to do with the country.

Ms Begum’s mother is believed to be a Bangladeshi national which means under Bangladesh law she would be too.

But Ms Begum told the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville: “I wasn’t born in Bangladesh, I’ve never seen Bangladesh and I don’t even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship.

“I have one citizenship… and if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that.

“I was hoping Britain would understand I made a mistake, a very big mistake, because I was young and naive.”

She said she changed her mind about IS after they imprisoned and tortured her Dutch husband – an armed jihadi.

Escape was impossible, she claimed: “They’d kill you if you tried.”

She added that she understood the anger about her wanting to come home.

“I understand why you don’t want to be sympathetic because of everything IS did… and claiming it’s all for the sake of Islam… it’s really not,” she said.

Her citiizenship is disputed by politicians.

Mr Javid said the power to deprive a person of citizenship was only used “in extreme circumstances”, for example, “when someone turns their back on the fundamental values and supports terror”.

“We must put the safety and security of our country first,” he added.

But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott accused him of breaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality”.

What is the legal situation on citizenship?

Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, a person can be deprived of their citizenship if the home secretary is satisfied it would be “conducive to the public good” and they would not become stateless as a result.

Ms Begum has the right to challenge the Home Office’s decision either by tribunal or judicial review, said former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile, but would have to prove the home secretary had acted disproportionately.

He said it was a “complex issue” which “could run for a very long time through the courts”, and Ms Begum could stay where she is “for maybe two years at least”.

Lord Carlile said her baby may be entitled to British, Dutch and Bangladeshi nationality.

Is Shamima Begum entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship?

Under Bangladesh law, a UK national like Ms Begum who is born to a Bangladeshi parent is automatically a Bangladeshi citizen. That means that such a person would have dual nationality.

However, their Bangladeshi nationality and citizenship lapses when they reach the age of 21, unless they make active efforts to retain it.

So, it is Ms Begum’s age, 19, that is likely – in part – to have given Home Office lawyers and the home secretary reassurance there was a legal basis for stripping her of her UK citizenship.

Her Bangladeshi citizenship remains intact until she reaches 21, even if she has never visited the country or made active efforts to retain her citizenship.

Politics again:

Former Conservative Home Secretary Ken Clarke said refusing Britons who joined IS the right to return would be a “great boost for jihadism” as the “hundreds of foreign jihadis stuck in camps in northern Syria” would be further radicalised.

And MP Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s spokeswoman for justice and home affairs, saidthe home secretary’s actions were “more about his leadership ambitions than security issues or due process”.

Mr Javid told MPs earlier this week that more than 100 dual nationals had already lost their UK citizenship after travelling in support of terrorist groups.

In an interview with the BBC on Monday…

…Ms Begum said she never sought to be an IS “poster girl” and now simply wished to raise her child quietly in the UK.

‘Quietly’ may be difficult for her after all this publicity.

She hasn’t helped her case with comments she has made, especially justifying a terrorist attack in Manchester- see Shamima Begum: Manchester Arena bombing ‘justified’ because of Syria airstrikes, Isis teenager says

But where she ends up living looks likely be determined by lawyers.

 

US Senate challenges Trump’s plans to withdraw from Syria

Donald Trump’s announcement and follow up statements about withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan were typically controversial, vague and contradictory. He surprised and alarmed people in the US, to the extent that his Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned immediately over Trump’s withdrawal proclamation last month.

The criticism continues.

Time: Trump’s Own Intelligence Chief Contradicted Him Several Times

The nation’s intelligence chief contradicted President Trump’s statements on North Korea, Syria and Russia while addressing the Senate on Tuesday, arguing that ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States despite the Administration’s claims that it has been defeated.

Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coats released the results of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which describes the biggest international dangers facing the United States, and told lawmakers during the Senate hearing that the U.S. must “keep our eyes on” ISIS.

“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.

As usual Trump thinks he knows best.

Does Trump know that Iran is closely linked to Syria? A US withdrawal from Syria would help Iranian interests there.

These tweets have been criticised – Bloomberg:  Trump Blasts U.S. Spy Agencies as Passive, ‘Weak’ on Iran Threat

Responding to Trump’s criticism, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that “it is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intelligence, said in a tweet that “the President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality. People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

Now the US Senate, led by a Republican majority, are pushing back against Trump’s plans (if you can call them plans, they are more like random proclamations).

CNN:  In rebuke to Trump, Mitch McConnell unveils proposal urging troops stay in Syria, Afghanistan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy bill that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” a move seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Syria.

“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Tuesday from the Senate floor, announcing the amendment to the bill, which is currently being debated.

McConnell added that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done…..we’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leaders of the free world.”

The leader of ‘the leaders of the free world’ (that’s increasingly debatable under Trump’s isolationism) might have to do a lot more firing to get his Intelligence agencies onside with his way of thinking, but one president can’t vote out 100 senators.

The US risks becoming the joke of the free world, but given the international situations the lead joker is thrashing around in it is not really a laughing matter.